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Shabbat Parashat Shoftim 5777

Parashat Hashavua: What is Mishpat Tzedek?

Harav Yosef Carmel

As we are in the practice of doing for Parashat Shoftim, we will once again deal with an issue that is connected to the work of our Eretz Hemdah-Gazit beit din network, which serves a broad spectrum of society throughout Israel. (One can find back-issues on our website).

The parasha begins with a charge to appoint judges and officers of the court, and commands the judges to rule the people with mishpat tzedek (approximately, righteous justice). They must not skew the judgment, show favorites, or take bribes, which blind even the wise judge (Devarim 16:18-19). While defining bribes is relatively straightforward, what is “mishpat tzedek”? We will learn today a halacha from the Shulchan Aruch that will give us an insight into how to accomplish this high level of justice.

The Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 3:8) says that the dayan must repeat the claims of the litigants, as we learn from Shlomo who repeated: “This woman says, ‘This is my live son and your son is dead’…” (Melachim I, 3:23). When the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 17:7) cites this halacha, it adds that the “dayan should hear … and repeat." What is the significance of hearing, which he adds – is it possible to know what to repeat without having heard in the first place? Perhaps he is hinting that Shlomo Hamelech is not the only source, but that this idea is a fulfillment of the pasuk from the Torah: “Hear between your brothers and judge righteously …” (Devarim 1:16).

The S’ma (17:15) offers two reasons for this halacha. 1) It is logical to put each litigant at ease that his claims were understood properly. 2) Perhaps the dayanim actually did not understand properly, and when they repeat the claims, the litigant(s) can correct them. Thus, the first explanation is psychological, while the second is a practical concern (see also Bach and Ptichei Teshuva ad loc.).

We want to suggest another benefit of repeating the main claims, which we have arrived at by means of years of experience we have accumulated, b’ezrat Hashem, in the beit din. One of the problems that force the litigants to come to beit din and not work matters out themselves is the problem of listening (i.e., lack thereof). Because they do not truly listen properly to the other side, they think that only their own side has real merit, and under such circumstances, they are indeed unable to come to an understanding and a solution. Negative feelings fuel this phenomenon, and they have several negative impacts. Sometimes the first real opportunity to listen is when sitting in beit din and the other litigant has the turn to speak, and even more so when the dayan gives import to those claims when he repeats them. In order to do the job properly, the dayan has to give a good example and listen well himself. When the dayan has “Heard between his brothers,” then he will have a good chance in the next stage of “and judge righteously …”

During these days, when we hear each morning the blowing of the shofar, it is a good time to encourage ourselves to always be sensitive enough to listen carefully one to another. This is one of the best recipes for an atmosphere of peace and truth between peers.

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Lillian bat Fortune

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