This week's Torah reading envisions for us an efficient, organized system of law and order, justice, and fairness. The Torah set a very high bar regarding the selection of judges and police. They are to be free of prejudice, bias and personally held agendas and social ideals. They are literally to be blind, without knowledge as to the nature and personalities of the litigants who appear before them and whose cases they must decide. The judges must be free of any form of corruption, from open graft to simple courtesy.
The Talmud records for us that the great Mar Shmuel, the head of the Academy of third century, Nehardea in Babylonia, was walking across a narrow bridge when the person coming towards him honorably made way so that the Rabbi could pass. Later in the day, this very same person appeared as a litigant before Mar Shmuel in a case before his court. Afraid of being influenced by the courtesy extended to him by this person, by allowing him to pass first on the narrow bridge, Mar Shmuel disqualified himself from judging the matter.
While such standards of justice that are outlined in this week's reading are almost impossible for human beings to achieve, we all are influenced by great and small things that occur to us, and by previous prejudices that have been instilled into us by events and societies. Though justice may be blind, the justices themselves rarely, if ever, are able to obtain the necessary level of fairness that the Torah seems to demand. Yet, we are aware that the Torah was not granted to angels, but rather, to human beings, and human beings are never perfect and always have, within themselves, prejudices and preconceived ideas regarding policies and judgments.
The Torah set standards for us to try and achieve. It never demands the impossible from human beings. So, the requirements set forth in this week's reading are the goals that we must try to achieve. We must pick the best, wisest, least prejudice, most honest people of integrity, that we can find in our midst, and appoint them as judges and police. Yet, the Torah reminds us that ultimate justice belongs to the Lord.
Mistakes that we make here on earth, in the long run of time and eternity, are always rectified by Heaven. We should be comforted by this. The Talmud teaches that a judge can only judge what he sees and understands, with the human condition appearing before him.
Heaven, however, has the ability to see everything, in terms of eternity, in terms of ultimate justice and fairness to all. It is without limited knowledge, therefore, that we are to do our best, and realize that ultimate justice is not done here on earth, but, rather, subject to the guidelines of Heaven. We can only attempt to create the best system of justice that is possible, within the constraints of human behavior and society.
Rabbi Berel Wein