Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Sivan 5762 - June 5, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
A Pillar of the World

by Yochonon Dovid

Let us imagine a business tycoon who is setting up a large factory, equipping it with all it needs in order to operate, hiring trained workers for the various positions and appointing a supervisor for personnel to see that all goes smoothly and the work is equitably divided up. Then, in a magnanimous gesture, he decides to establish that supervisor as a partner in the venture.

A judge who delivers a true and just judgment, say Chazal, is considered a partner to Hashem in the "venture" of Creation! His job is merely to judge equitably between man and his fellow man, and the stakes are sometimes no more than a single coin -- sometimes the two sides may be contending for no more than a pennyworth. But since the world stands on judgment and truth and the clarification thereof, according to which the judge establishes peace in justice and righteousness, it is as if he has become a partner with Hashem in the work of Creation. Fortunate are those who judge truly, who share a portion in maintaining the entire world. Who cannot help being envious of this exalted, marvelous stature of being a partner to Hashem?

In Parshas Kedoshim, Rashi tells us that a storekeeper who deals with weights of merchandise also falls under the category of a judge-partner. Let us concretize this for ourselves:

In a store that sells condiments and nosh, a customer asks for 200 grams of pumpkin seeds. The storekeeper fills up a small bag, lays it on the scale and studies the digital face that wobbles between 190 and 210 grams. He waits for a moment until it stabilizes to 203 and then hands the bag over to his customer. Rashi tells us that "he is called a judge."

So here we have another partner to Hashem in the ongoing routine administration of the world. This fellow, the simple proprietor of a candy store or what- have-you -- be his establishment a pickle store or a fabric shop where material is sold by the yard, or a hardware store which counts out thirty screws for a customer -- all these deal with the sacred work of maintaining the world through justice and truth. And these folk become partners in its normal functioning, in the true and just extension of the work of Creation.

We learn this from the verse that commands and warns us not to miscarry justice. Ostensibly, the Torah is addressing those judges who sit on cases. But the Torah specifies those to whom the warning is directed as well: those who deal with weights, measures (of land) and measures of volume. All those engaged in such acts of measuring are considered judges who decide how much each customer/client should receive. If his measurement is false and he withholds from the client his full due, he is causing through his act a serious deviation or corruption of the act of Creation and a subsequent destruction of Hashem's world.

Rashi enumerates the devastating consequences, one by one: He desecrates Hashem's Name and ousts the Shechina; he defiles the Land, and causes Israel to be laid waste by sword and to be exiled from their homeland.

One who reads this passage and Rashi's commentary thereon, and then must go to serve behind the counter of his shop to measure and weigh merchandise for his customers, requires a most steadfast, stalwart heart in order to stay the trembling in his hands that is evoked by the very thought of the fateful act he is engaged in and the ponderous responsibility required of him for exactitude in his deeds. A bit of pressure from customers on a Friday, or some casual conversation whilst weighing or measuring, are liable to divert his attention from the job at hand and shake the very pillars of the world!

The broad ramifications of carelessness are evidently drastic when it comes to a heart or brain surgeon, where any unwarranted twitch of the hand can result in irreparable damage to the patient. But so many people are engaged in weighing and measuring -- and each operates within the parameters of judgment where a partnership status with Hashem winks to him on the one hand while a gaping abyss threatens to engulf him with every slight aberration, inattention, lightheadedness or carelessness in the critical execution of each act, on the other.

The verse, "You shall do no wrong in judgment" has greatly swelled the ranks of judges. For not only are those judicial figures numbered in this important and critical profession, but also every storekeeper and retailer dealing with measurement, even an automobile assessor or a doctor who establishes the degree of disability of his patient for various purposes and the like. All of these fall into the category of judges who require precision in rulings that apply to a person's ownership, even if it involves a mere penny, and they stand on the delicate balance of either being a partner to Hashem in the act of Creation, or, G-d forbid, desecrating His Name and causing a withdrawal of His Shechina, and terrible misfortune to the People and the Land.

An avenging angel created from theft or the corruption of law has the power to reduce entire cities to rubble and to disperse their inhabitants to the four corners of the world.

It seems, however, that we haven't yet exhausted the list of judges upon whom rests the awesome responsibility of not veering off the course of truth and justice.

Every person, without exception, is engaged in giving marks to those connected to him in any way. Even a small child is happy to see that "good uncle" who hands out candies in shul on Shabbos. That "uncle" is marked as a good person in the child's mind because of his kind act.

An older person draws up in his memory lists of people whom he designates as positive or negative figures, one way or another, according to their appearance or past performance.

The actions by virtue of which a person is registered as positive or negative are not always clear-cut or absolute. Often, it is possible to interpret a deed in several ways that range from "something altogether despicable" to "an error" and all the way to "good." This passing of judgment upon a person preoccupies much of our thoughts, resulting in our categorizing the objects of our judgment to one of our mental lists. And from thereon, our relationship to that person is determined by his place on our list: from an attitude of respect all the way to abuse or total dismissal.

These acts of passing judgment which every person must necessarily engage in all the time, are not a wide open area of no-man's-land, that is, hefker, subject to the willfulness, mood or arbitrariness of the judge. There are halachic parameters on how to judge a person's acts, and this depends on whether we know and accept the person as a strictly G-d-fearing one, an average person or a wanton sinner. The nature of the act and the possibilities of interpreting it determine how to judge the man behind it and to what extent we are obligated to exert our minds in order to judge favorably when the act seems outwardly to be altogether negative.

The extent of our duty according to the rules of halacha is determined by Chazal in Pirkei Ovos: Judge every person favorably. Some mistakenly think that this is a figure of speech for seeing the good in every person, but in reality it is a positive commandment of the Torah: "You shall judge your neighbor justly." A judge is always judging between two, whereas here we are talking about one single person.

The Torah turns to every person involved in judging others according to their deeds, and it commands us to judge our fellow man justly and charitably, leaning to his favor. A person who interprets the deeds of his friend negatively, in violation of the halachic rules in the matter, transgresses an explicit positive commandment. That sin will grow and expand and produce bad fruit when his relationship towards that person will henceforth be in accordance with his negative interpretation of his act. The result of an invalid judgment is a thousand times more severe than cheating someone on ten grams of pumpkin seeds.

We thus see that all of us, you and I, are almost full- time judges, and we do not deal with matters of pennies but with lives. Woe to the poor fellow who was misjudged as guilty, especially if he is our student, employee, or simply a neighbor or acquaintance. How weighty is the responsibility in choosing between being a partner in Creation or in the destruction of the world!

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