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28 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Ensuring An Honest Judgment: A Shmuess For Parshas Mishpotim

By HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l

Justice for the Wicked

The Torah writes, (Shemos 23:6), "Don't pervert the judgment of your pauper in his quarrel," on which the Mechilta comments, "Your pauper," means a pauper in mitzvos. Don't say, `Since he is an evildoer, I will pervert his judgment' . . . " We need to understand what new point the Torah is making by telling us not to pervert the judgment of a rosho. Why would we have thought it permitted, if not for the Mechilta's interpretation?

I heard a story from the gaon HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l, about the gaon HaRav Chaim Leib Stavitsker zt'l, author of the sefer, Pnei Aryeh Hachai. Reb Chaim Leib was known for his great zeal in defending Heaven's honor. On a day when he had to engage in a protest against some desecration of Hashem's Name, he would first cry in prayer to Hashem to protect him from erring in any way. This is true zeal, entirely for the sake of Heaven.

In Stavitsk, there were many (foolish) maskilim, among them the town's pharmacist, who was a mechalel Shabbos, R'l. One of the leading figures in the Jewish community, an honorable and G-d fearing man, had a monetary dispute with the pharmacist and the two of them came to put their case before Reb Chaim Leib for his verdict. Reb Chaim Leib ruled that the communal leader was obliged to pay and that the pharmacist was free of any liability. The communal leader did not accept Reb Chaim Leib's ruling and the case reached the gentile court, which ruled in favor of the communal leader. The pharmacist came to ask Reb Chaim Leib for advice.

"Go and lodge an appeal at the high court in St. Petersburg," Reb Chaim Leib told him, "and I will come to help you put your case."

The pharmacist did so and the hearing was fixed in St. Petersburg for ten o'clock on Shavuos morning. Reb Chaim Leib travelled to St. Petersburg on erev yom tov, forgoing yom tov in Stavitsk in order to be present to help the pharmacist as he had promised. People said every year that whoever hadn't heard Reb Chaim Leib's brochos over the Torah when called up on Shavuos for the reading of the Aseres Hadibros, had not felt the true meaning of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Reb Chaim Leib nevertheless travelled to St. Petersburg and appeared in court on Shavuos, in order to testify on behalf of the pharmacist.

Upon his return, Reb Chaim Leib was asked by his friends, "Granted, the Rov really does think that the pharmacist is correct in this case, but why does that warrant such a sacrifice, going away for Shavuos in order to appear as a witness for him?'

Reb Chaim Leib responded, "What are you so surprised about? It's an explicit commandment!" And he quoted the Mechilta [cited above], "Even if he's a rosho . . .`you shall not pervert the judgment of your pauper,' " concluding, "What is the difference then, whether I'm in St. Petersburg or in Stavitsk?"

Despite the Way it Looks

The question which we raised earlier still stands however. Why would we have thought that it is permitted to allow an evildoer's judgment to be perverted?

We can answer this with a parable which takes its inspiration from an incident that befell the Chofetz Chaim zt'l during the period when he used to travel from town to town selling his seforim.

Once, on erev Shabbos, the Chofetz Chaim needed a place to leave his money. He made his way to the town's rav and entrusted it to him. After Shabbos, the Chofetz Chaim came to take his leave of the rav but he made no mention of the sum with which he had been entrusted. The rav was surprised at how the Chofetz Chaim could transgress the words of the gemora (Bovo Metzia 75), which says that, "Three [classes of] people cry out [in prayer] and are not answered" (Rashi explains that this is because they are responsible for their own misfortunes). One of the three is a person who lends money to others without witnesses. The gemora says that a talmid chochom, whose mind is occupied with his learning, is more liable to forget [having been lent the money] than others. The rav thought, "If the Chofetz Chaim asks for his money, I'll give it to him but I'll reprimand with [having ignored] the gemora's advice."

However, the Chofetz Chaim's conduct astonished the rav. He left the house without asking for his money. The rav accompanied him and just before he left the town, the rav asked him, "What about the money that you left with me?"

The Chofetz Chaim replied, "Since I deposited it with you without witnesses, and the gemora says that someone who does this is one of those whose prayers [in this matter] are not answered, I cannot claim the money from you. I therefore forwent the money and did not ask you for it, and neither do I want it, for it is already not mine."

The rav responded, "If so, then I'm giving it to you as a gift."

The Chofetz Chaim replied, "Sonei matonos yichyeh."

They ultimately came to a compromise and gave the money to tzedokoh.

Imagine the Chofetz Chaim, who was scrupulously careful when dealing with other people's money, going to a din Torah with someone who was known to be a great rosho. We would certainly assume that the Chofetz Chaim was right in his arguments and if the dayanim reached any other conclusion, we would be sure that they had made a mistake. However, the Torah does not look at it this way and commands us not to "pervert the judgment of your pauper in his dispute," even if he is a pauper in mitzvos, as the Mechilta explains.

The facts are what the Torah tells us, not what our eyes see, which in the above example would be to assume that if the greatest tzaddik of the generation is a party to a dispute, he must be correct. There is halochoh and Shulchan Oruch and they alone determine who is right!

The Power of Falsehood

The posuk (Shemos 23:7) tells us, "Distance yourself from a false matter . . . " The gemora (Shavuos 31), tells us, "If two parties [to a dispute] come before beis din, one of whom is dressed in rags and the other in an outfit worth a hundred moneh, how do we know that we [have to] say to him [i.e. the wealthier one], `Either dress yourself like him or clothe him like you are clothed?' -- [Because] the Torah says, `Distance yourself from a false matter.' We may not even start hearing the case while one of the parties is dressed better than the other one."

Chazal tell us (Yevomos 109), that "A dayan should always see himself as having a sword between his thighs, and Gehennom open beneath him." Our master and teacher zt'l commented that we need to understand the particular relevance of the sword being between his knees, rather than in front of him, which is the expression used by the gemora when speaking about an oveil who, during the shivoh, "should imagine that there is a sword resting in front of him"? (Moed Koton 27).

[He explained that] when a dayan is about to hear a dispute, he should feel that the danger he is in of perverting his judgment, is as immediate as that of someone with a sword between his thighs, whose slightest wrong movement will immediately cause him injury. The dayan should also be aware that Gehennom is open "beneath him" -- not far off in Olom Haboh and not even at a slight distance away -- but "in front of him," actually beneath him.

Why is the danger so immediate? Because if one of the disputants is well-dressed, the dayan will virtually automatically tip the judgment in his favor. The man's very appearance acts as a "bribe" and the dayan will acquit him because of his golden buttons. This is utter falsehood, concerning which the Torah warns us, "Distance yourself from a false matter!"

The Torah doesn't fix any distance. Go as far away as you can! The dayan must tell them to leave the room and he must instruct the one who is better dressed either to provide similar clothing for his opponent, or to dress on the same level as him. Only when they have carried out these instructions can they return and have their case heard.

See what great power a person's eyes have! A few moments earlier, this man, the wealthier party, was dressed in a high class suit and now that the dayan sees the very same person in front of him dressed in rags, there's no longer any danger of his perverting the judgment! Right now he sees that the two of them are dressed similarly. It makes no difference how much of a gaon or a tzaddik the dayan is. There is always a danger that he'll pervert the true judgment according to what he sees in front of him.

Remove the False Allure!

The gaon Rav Yisroel Salanter zt'l, extended the interpretation of Chazal's admonition to a dayan to each and every person, because each person is a dayan for himself. As soon as a person rises in the morning, he must preside over a confrontation between two disputants -- the yetzer hatov and the yetzer hora.

The yetzer hora is dressed in a beautiful suit of clothes and paints all the pursuits of Olom Hazeh in glowing hues, telling the person, "Why shouldn't you send your son to learn a trade? It will be a positive thing for Torah as well, because with a trade in hand, he'll have the peace of mind to fix times for learning. Even though he doesn't need money right now, he will need it after he gets married and then he'll be able to have Torah as well as a livelihood."

On the other side is the yetzer hatov, who warns the person that those arguments are false. If the man's son doesn't learn when he's young, he certainly won't even open a gemora to learn from after he's married. The two adversaries struggle with each other. To whom will the person, who is his own judge, listen? What can he do to ensure that he doesn't listen to the falsehoods and the allures of the yetzer hora?

Our master and teacher said, "Take Chazal's advice, (Brochos 5): `A person should always make his yetzer hatov annoyed with his yetzer hora.' " Rashi explains that he should have his yetzer hatov wage war against his yetzer hora. What tactic will ensure the yetzer hatov's victory in this battle? The person should remove the yetzer hora's tailored clothing, to reveal how much falsehood there is underneath, and moreover, that the truly fine clothing is worn by the yetzer hatov -- "Taste and see that Hashem is good...." (Tehillim 34:9). By contemplating how much pleasure there is in learning Torah and studying works of mussar, a person will feel [where true contentment lies] and will provoke his yetzer hatov against his yetzer hora.

I heard the gaon and tzaddik Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l, say, "I've heard other people say, `It's impossible for us to learn mussar because it makes us depressed,' chas vesholom. The opposite is true. When I learn mussar it makes me joyful because I see that there is a remedy and a cure to the plague of the yetzer hora and Hashem's orders are upright, gladdening the heart' (Tehillim 19:9)." If a person learns mussar, he'll clothe his yetzer hatov in a suit worth a hundred moneh.

The Condition for Protection

Chazal say further (in Brochos) "If he defeated the yetzer hora, well and good, and if not, he should occupy himself with learning Torah." By "occupying oneself with learning Torah" Chazal meant learning with desire and pleasure, as though one were busy with some business pursuit of one's own.

HaRav Yitzchok Blazer zt'l, raised a difficulty on this gemora in Brochos: "Rabbi Levi bar Chamoh said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lokish, `A person should always antagonize his yetzer hatov against his yetzer hora, as the posuk (Tehillim 4:5) says, "Quake [or, "provoke," implying being both the instigator and the subject of the provocation, which fits the gemora's understanding of a person provoking his own yetzorim, one against the other] and do not sin." If he was victorious, good. If not, he should occupy himself with learning Torah, as the [continuation of the same] posuk says, `say in your hearts". In other words, he should learn Torah with all his heart.

However, the gemora continues, "If he was victorious, good. If not, he should read Krias Shema." How can a person not be successful in defeating the yetzer hora, when Hashem says, "I created the yetzer hora and I created Torah as an antidote" (Kiddushin 30)? If this person learned Torah with all his heart, how can he have been unsuccessful in defeating the yetzer hora?

Chazal (Brochos 62) tell us however that, "Whoever treats garments lightly will ultimately derive no benefit from them." Hakodosh Boruch Hu gave clothing the property of warming a person. However, if a person treats clothing with disrespect, the benefit which he gets from it will be taken away. Just as a certain attitude brings a certain result in the material realm, so it is in the spiritual realm. Chazal (Sotah 22) tell us that, "Torah protects and saves." Rashi explains, " `It protects' from suffering `and saves' from the yetzer hora." If a person has no respect for Torah, then even if he occupies himself with Torah, he will not benefit from Torah's saving him from the yetzer hora.

This is why Chazal say [that if learning has not helped him], he should read Krias Shema and accept the yoke of Heaven's rule and through this, he should honor Torah, namely, learn Torah in fear and dread and respect it, recognize that there is no life outside of Torah and taste the pleasure of Torah, as the posuk says, "Taste and see that Hashem is good."

"For life [is dependent upon] His will" (Tehillim 30:6), meaning, that there is no sensation of being alive and of enjoyment of life, unless life is lived "in His will," i.e. in the fulfillment of Hashem's will. A person is mistaken if he allows himself to be drawn after worldly pleasures because he thinks that they represent true enjoyment. He'll only enjoy the first few moments. The more he follows the pleasures of this world and gets used to them, the more he'll see how false they are.

At first they glitter but he'll see later that they are lies and vanity. Moreover, from being pleasures they become liabilities, for they give him no peace and he becomes a slave to his desires.

The more a person toils in Torah and the more he enjoys it, however, and the more he immerses himself in its clouds of purity, both his body and soul have uninterrupted pleasure, he merits everlasting life in both Olom Haboh and Olom Hazeh, and his joy lasts forever, as the posuk says, "Hashem's orders are upright, gladdening the heart."

The Desired Effect

HaRav Yisroel Salanter adds that if someone wants to go straight to the last stage of the remedy and remember the day of death (as Chazal conclude in Brochos, "If [he was] not [victorious by saying Krias Shema], he should remember the day of death") this might not help him. Just as there is a certain order in a campaign waged by one country against another, there is an order in the campaign waged against the yetzer hora.

First, "He should provoke the yetzer hatov against the yetzer hora. Earlier, we quoted Rashi's explanation, that "he should wage war against the yetzer hora," which he does by learning Torah and mussar. Then, he reads Krias Shema, and following that, he remembers the day of death. He will then be victorious, but only if he follows this order.

Eisov also remembered the day of his death, yet the posuk (Bereishis 25:32) tells us that he said, "Lo, I am going to die and what do I need this birthright for?" [His attitude was that illustrated by the mindset shown in] the posuk (Yeshayah 22:13), "But lo, gladness and rejoicing, slaughtering cattle and slaughtering flock . . . `Eat and drink for tomorrow we die!'," which Chazal say is the trait of the middling group (Taanis 11). The outcome of which, continues the posuk, is, "And it will be revealed in Hashem's ears . . . if you will atone for this sin until you die." [Meaning that you will not atone for it.]

We have brought the beraissa in maseches Kallah, perek 3, "It is the way of talmidei chachomim to fear sin, to enquire after people according to their deeds, to say about what they have in the world, "I have no desire for it, for the whole world is not mine." Happy are the talmidei chachomim who recognize the matters of this world are not theirs! They are thus certain to possess Olom Haboh, as well as pleasure in Olom Hazeh.

May we merit Hashem bestowing everything good upon us, omein seloh!

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