Parshat Mishpatim 5782: Yithro’s Vision for Legal, Judicial Systems Vs the Bribery of Bias

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parsha Mishpatim is being sponsored by Baruch and Yaffa Swinkin and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated lilui nishmas for Baruch’s grandfather Micha’el ben Yaakov.. To the Swinkin family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Mishpatim 5782: Yithro’s Vision for Legal, Judicial Systems Vs the Bribery of Bias

by Moshe Burt

There is a citing from Yishai Chasidah’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Jewish Personalities (pages 306-309) regarding Yithro which provides a fitting introduction to Parshat Mishpatim. Yithro, for whom our previous parsha was named, merited to express insights to Moshe Rabbeinu which were crucial to the evolution of Torah’s judiciary system.

Chasidah cites Yerushalmi Brachot (Perek 2, posuk 8) which writes of Yithro;

When B’nei Yisrael do Hashem’s Will, HaKodesh Borchu searches throughout the world, and if he finds a righteous person among the nations, he brings him and attaches him to B’nei Yisrael. One of the examples given was Yithro.

So, it was much more than Yithro’s past governmental experience as an advisor to Pharaoh, his kindnesses to Moshe as an infant via the “burning coal” and later, as his father-in-law, and his craving to join B’nei Yisrael to find Divine Truth which positioned him to counsel Moshe regarding formation of a Judiciary. Yithro’s advice to Moshe was fully backed by his own actions in standing on honesty, integrity and principle.

In advising Moshe Rabbeinu on how to judge B’nei Yisrael, Yithro spoke;

“You shall discern from among the entire people men of accomplishment, G-d-fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money, and you shall appoint them leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, and leaders of tens.” (Rendered to ‘English in The Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer Shemos, Perek 18, posuk 21)

Yithro, through his kindness, honesty and principle merited to advise and format the Judicial system of B’nei Yisrael, which stands as the paradigm today for the way a Torah law enforcement and judicial system must be.

There is the oft-cited Ibn Ezra on Parsha Yithro which Torah Gems, Volume 2, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg cites (regarding Sefer Shemos, Perek 18, posuk 25) regarding Moshe’s appointment of a judicial system, and the application of that lesson to all of us:

“Moshe chose able men out of all Israel and appointed them heads of the people…” (translation rendered to English in Torah Gems Volume 2, Parsha Yithro, page 131)

“The Torah did not mention ‘G’d-fearing men’ because only Hashem knows what is in man’s heart.” (ibid, page 131)

Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, in her sefer “Torah Tapestries” on Sefer Shemos (Parshat Mishpatim pages 87- 88, 92-96) discusses two laws of judges (in a Torah justice system) and how these laws relate to us, we who don’t serve in the legal system. Rebbetzin Smiles cites Sanhedrin 7b in explaining:

“A judge is prohibited to hear the words of a litigant until his fellow has arrived.” Judges are not permitted to hear a case until both parties are present and prepared to present their arguments, one immediately following the other.

Why is the Torah so particular about a judge hearing the two accounts in immediate consecutive order? Any experienced judge understands that one account is only one half of the story and any initially formulated conclusions are temporary. The judge is aware that his view of the case will change when he hears the second side.

Hmmm? (Facetiously) Kinda sounds like the Israel’s agendized, biased and selective “rush to judgement”, and corruption-ridden police and “judiciary” (sic)???

Rebbetzin Smiles then cites a Maharal (MeiRosh Tzurim, Shemos, page 254) which says:

…As soon as a judge hears the first presentation, …. in his effort to fully understand the first litigant’s testimony, he mentally validates the initial version of the story. Even if the judge subsequently hears the second side legitimately disprove the original story, it is very difficult for him to listen with equal objectivity. The judge’s natural human inclination is to support his original impression.

Rebbetzin Smiles continues:

And…, time is a factor…. The more time between presentations, the more the first opinion dominates the judge’s mind. Understanding human nature, Hashem put a Mitzvah in the Torah that advises judges to hear the opposing testimonies one after the other, as close as possible. It is a warning to prevent a first opinion from overpowering the mind and spoiling objectivity.

Rebbetzin Smiles then discusses how first impressions can effect us, we who don’t serve in the judiciary, in our daily lives. It may be the new neighbor about whom one may form a first mistaken negative impression from hearing yelling from behind the neighbor’s door. Others, who know the neighbor, would then speak highly of his or her kind attributes. Rebbetzin Smiles asks:

What would it take to convince you that you might have been mistaken?

It’s difficult to let go of… first impressions. Even [Torah-true] judges, who constantly strive to be truthful, were given laws to prevent a biased first impression…. prevent the possibility of the initial impression becoming a permanent one. When forming an opinion, stop and… mix it with other possible perspectives. Hashem rewards us, as it says in the gemara: “Anyone who judges others favorably will be judged favorably in Heaven.”

When we decide that the truth is more important than our egos, we will be able to swallow our pride and confess our errors.

Truth, honesty represent an important linchpin of morality and justice. As the line from that old Billy Joel tune goes:

“Honesty is such a lonely word.”

In his sefer “Inspiration and Insight”, Discourses on the weekly Parashah by the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehuda Zev Segal, z’l (pages 128-129) cites sefer “Mesilas Yesharim,” by R’Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Chapter 11) which provides lengthy discussion regarding levels of falsehood existing within mankind and their “descending order of destructiveness.”

R’ Segal cites R’Moshe Chaim Luzzato:

Our Sages have taught, “The seal of the Holy One is truth” (Shabbos 55a). Now, if truth is what Hashem has chosen as his seal, then how despicable must its converse be before Him… Truth is one of the pillars upon which the worlds exist (Avos 1:18); it follows then that one who speaks falsehood is considered as if he has destroyed the world’s foundation.

R’ Segal also indicates that there is a common misconception that falsehood only occurs through speech. He cites a braisa (Gemara Tractate Shavu’os 30b-31a) to note how one can violate the admonition against falsehood through deeds.

The second law mentioned in our parsha which Rebbetzin Smiles in her sefer “Torah Tapestries” on Sefer Shemos [ibid] discusses “deals with court dress code.” Rebbetzin Smiles cites gemara Shevu’os 31a:

Two people cannot appear in court dressed differently, meaning one dressed simply and the other extravagantly. Either the one wearing expensive clothing must remove it and dress more humbly, or he must give the other litigant similarly expensive garments for the duration of the court case.

The gemara says… “distance yourself from a matter of falsehood.” The drastic contrast in garments might influence judges to favor the finely dressed person or snub the poor person’s argument. The simply-dressed litigant might feel that the judges are predisposed toward his rich opponent, as Rashi explains (commentary on gemara Shevu’os 31a).

Rebbetzin Smiles cites Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman (Sefer Ohr Yahel, Vol. 3,page 124) in further explaining dress as a possible factor in judicial decision-making:

Even though… [a] judge may be committed to impartiality, his eyes can still lead him astray. A gold button and a drape of expensive fabric hypnotize the human mind. Once you remove… visual stimuli, an objective judgement can emerge…. Hashem created our human nature; and therefore, instructs us: Distance yourself from falsehood and remove any visual clues that could mislead you.

Rebbetzin Smiles continues citing Rabbi Chasman who notes:

We judge all the time. We make internal judgements and decide how to act. Some thoughts are influenced by the yetzer hatov (good inclination) and some by the yetzer hara (evil inclination). So how do we tell the difference? …The yetzer hara thoughts are usually dressed in a fancy suit…. to deceive us with positive external impressions: “Think how amazing life will be be when you earn that extra money, even if it’s slightly dishonest.” …The yetzer hatov’s ideas never seem to look as exciting or glamorous on the outside.

The gemara (Rebbetzin Smiles citing Rabbi Chasman relating to Gemara Tractate Berachas 5a) gives us ways to conquer the yetzer hara, it instructs us to learn Torah and to accept the yoke of the Kingship of Heaven…. This is how to enclothe the yetzer hatov in the elegant clothing it deserves; we feel how beautiful and pleasant it is to learn Torah and serve Hashem, and then the desire for sin lessens. If that doesn’t work, then… remember the day of death. That is tearing off the yetzer hara’s finery and exposing the rags that truly lie underneath.

Imagine the merit to be earned collectively by a unity of B’nei Yisrael acting truthfully, justly and treating each other — our fellow Jew, at all levels from daily man-in-the-street dealings, or between merchant and customer, bus driver and passenger, employer/employee, civil-servant and Yosef Q. Jewish Citizen, as well as by the governing law enforcement and judicial systems toward those being governed, as Yithro the righteous Ger did.

And imagine building on that national kindness and unity with the rock-solid, unified, unequivocal principle — Kol Ha’aretz Shelanu (This is Our Land)! This seems a logical evolvement of Bein Adam L’Chaveiro applied to Bein Adam L’Mokom, an outgrowth of fair and righteous dealing between one and his fellow as extended to our relationship with Hashem.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his Sefer “Growth Through Torah” (on Parsha Mishpatim, page 197) adds to this equation of righteousness, kindness, principle and integrity by citing both Sefer Shemot (Perek 23, posuk 8 ), and Rabbi Avraham of Sochotchov equating one’s bias’ with bribery:

“And bribery you shall not take, for a bribe will blind those who can see, and distort the words of the righteous.” (Rabbi Pliskin rendering to English Sefer Shemot, Perek 23, posuk 8 )

Rabbi Avraham of Sochotchov commented…. When a person is blind, he realizes it and will ask someone who can see to help him. But if a person has a bias, the bias blinds him to such an extent that he does not even realize that he is blind. He feels that what he perceives is reality and will refuse to listen to others.

There are many bribes that distort our judgement. We are not referring to an out and out bribe. Any bias will cause us to view things in a way that will fit our particular bias.

It would seem then that the modern-day adaptation, or application of the term “bias” in America would be “woke-ism” — blm, antifa, etc. i.e. endoctrination and agendization. In Israel too, bias = agendization as in the Israeli left’s promotion, based on their own distorted secular perceptions, of plans which serve to brainwash the population, segments of the public who fall prey to such brainwashing or dumbing down, to radicalize as “racist (sic)” those who possess the Land of Israel as our Divine legacy. In doing so, they have sooo deluded themselves and sooo numbed and blinded themselves to what should be the Divine, self-evident truth of our Jewish sovereignty in and on Eretz Yisrael. And the same goes for the “bias”, the agendization of divide-and-conquer politicians against the Chachamim who give their beings over to learning Torah, or the agendization of some segments against their fellow Jews who they see as “not as religious” as themselves because of the kippah they wear or the Rabbinic hashkafah they adhere to.

In the spirit of all of the above, the Shabak and the leftist Israeli media’s appearance of a rush to judgement against those of their brethren possessing emunah regarding OUR Divinely Ordained possession of Eretz Yisrael is beyond aggregious and abominable and is a Chillul Hashem (a debasement of Hashem’s name). Arrests and prosecutions of young Jews based on false, torture-forced confessions of guilt or complicity in alleged terror acts just because these Jews live on hilltops on Jewish land in Yehudah and the Shomron, or simply because they wear kippot, seems highly prejudicial, biased and runs 180 degrees contrary in spirit to the inculcation of honesty, principle and integrity in dealing with our brethren engendered in our Parshat Mishpatim. This seems particularly true in the case of the alleged Duma arson attack where Israeli legal and judicial systems questionably accused and convicted hilltop youth of an arson attack rather than investigate a possible feud between Arab families. The same is true regarding the rush to judgement and jail time for the Chayal who made sure that a terrorist was disabled. And then there was the so-called event labeled a “traffic accident” where an Arab vehicle struck an Israeli vehicle resulting in the deaths of a mother and her baby and serious crippling injuries to the father and an older son. That the government of Israel swears by such tactics by it’s law enforcement and judiciary validates how very far we are from achievement of the paradigm envisioned by Yithro in his advice and counsel to Moshe Rabbeinu.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home and into their second year in Eretz Yisrael. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of seven years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.