June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Late one night, Yankele knocked at the door of his rebbe. Exasperated, he was barely able to breathe, let alone speak. “Rebbe,” he gasped, “I saw the town shochet eating on Yom Kippur! What are we to do? How can we trust any of the kashrus in the city?” The rebbe was taken aback. “Yankele, you saw him? With your own eyes?”

“Well … ,” paused Yankele, “to be completely honest, I didn’t see him myself; Velvel the tailor, he is the one who told me.” The rebbe raised his eyebrows. “Ah, okay. Please bring Velvel here.”

When Velvel arrived, the rebbe asked him directly: “Tell me, did you see our shochet eating on Yom Kippur?” “So, Rebbe, here’s the thing. It wasn’t Yom Kippur, it was on Tisha B’Av.” With an intense look, the rebbe asked Velvel again, “You saw him? With your own eyes?” Velvel shifted from one foot to the other. “To be truthful, I didn’t see him myself, but Shmelke the cobbler, he is the one who was there, and he told me!” “I think I understand,” said the rebbe. “Bring Shmelke right away please.”

When Shmelke arrived, the rebbe asked him, “Did you see the shochet eating on Tisha B’Av?” “Tisha B’Av!?” cried Shmelkeh, “No, no, chas v’shalom, Heaven forbid! It was Tzom Gedalya when he ate!” The rebbe gave him a stern look. “But you saw him, Shmelke? With your own eyes?” Shmelke blushed and answered with hesitation, “Der emeser emes is,  I didn’t actually see him eating. It was Moishe the tinsmith who saw him … he is the one who told me.” The rebbe rolled his eyes. “What is going on with you guys?! Quickly, bring me Moishe tinsmither, so we can get to the bottom of this already!”

Finally, Moishe arrived at the rebbe’s home. “Is it true? Did you see the shochet eating during the fast of Tzom Gedalya?” “No, no, Rebbe, not at all! It was just a couple of days ago … I saw the shochet eating before davening in the morning.”

At the end of his rope, the rebbe pleaded, “Please tell me that you, Moishe, yourself, saw—with your own eyes—the shochet eating before Shacharis.” “Forgive me, Rebbe, not really! But I did see him walk into shul with a big smile on his face, and laughing. And let’s be honest: Who comes into shul, smiling and laughing—in the morning, before davening—without having some coffee and cake?”

~

Our sedra lays the groundwork for a system of enforcement and oversight of community standards and law, which we are commanded to administer justly and with fairness. Conviction, condemnation and punishment can only happen after a balanced, thorough investigation with a minimum of two credible witnesses. And this is only valid—with due process—by well-trained judges, who seek the wellbeing of all those involved:

שֹֽׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֶּן־לְךָ בְּכָל־שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר ה׳ אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ לִשְׁבָטֶיךָ וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת־הָעָם מִשְׁפַּט־צֶדֶק:

“You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that Hashem is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” (16:18)

Rashi comments: “(They shall) appoint judges who are—דַּיָּנִין מֻמְחִים וְצַדִּיקִים לִשְׁפֹּט צֶדֶק—expert and righteous, so that they will judge justly.”

Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zt”l, the great “defender of Israel,” interprets our pasuk expansively, providing us a meaningful instruction and insight as we approach a new year and prepare to stand in judgment before Hashem. The Torah is telling us that we hold the key to our own gezar din: שופטים ושוטרים תעשה—“You appoint the judge,” meaning, “it is in our hands to determine how our judgment will turn out.” “Veasita mishpat tzedek—And judge our nation favorably, bekaf zechus, and that will be the way the judge sees us.” For ultimately, מידה כנגד מידה—“the way we judge others will be the way Hashem acts toward us.”

One of the sources for this mitzvah of giving others the benefit of the doubt is the verse, בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ—“You shall judge your fellow with righteousness,” (Vayikra 19:15).

The Targum translates this as, “Bekushta tidinei l’chavracha—Judge your friend in truth.” By judging favorably, we reveal the inner truth of our friend, who they really are. In the Torah, betzedek usually means “fair.” Here, it implies focusing on the merits and tzidkus—the inner righteousness or saintliness—of the other.

Judging negatively—especially on hearsay—with an incomplete picture or without all the facts or backstory, is not due process, for we have a divine command: והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות—“Judge every person favorably, on the side of their merits.”

Seeing the good in others, and judging them favorably—not only reveals the authentic merits and righteousness of our friends—it reveals ours as well. Then, when we stand before the true Judge, we will be conscious of the fact that we are filled with merits, like a pomegranate is filled with juicy seeds. And bezer Hashem, we will then be signed and sealed for a good, sweet year, filled with smiles and laughter—with or without coffee and cake before shul.


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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