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Please include Israel's captive soldiers in your tefillot: Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam Baumel, Tzvi ben Penina Feldman, Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah Katz, Ron ben Batya Arad, Guy ben Rina Chever.

Friday,  25 Nissan 5774 – April 25, 2014           

             

            The Torah commands in Parashat Kedoshim (19:15), “be-tzedek tishpot amitekha” – “you shall judge your fellow justly.”  From the context it seems clear that the Torah refers here to judges, commanding them to judge honestly and objectively.  Indeed, the Rambam, in his Sefer Ha-mitzvot (asei 177), based on the Gemara (Shavuot 30a), cites this verse as the source of the Biblical obligation upon judges to treat both litigants fairly and equally.  This means that a judge may not show favoritism to one litigant during the proceedings, such as by allowing him to speak freely while allowing the other litigant little chance to respond.

 

            However, the Gemara there in Shavuot also brings another interpretation, explaining this command as addressing all of us and requiring us to judge our fellowman favorably – “hevei dan et cheveirekha le-khaf zekhut  The Rambam mentions this interpretation, as well, apparently feeling that the Gemara cited it not as a different view but rather as an additional denotation of “be-tzedek tishpot amitekha  It thus appears that the Rambam approached this requirement to judge all people favorably as a Torah obligation incorporated within the command of “be-tzedek tishpot amitekha

 

            Elsewhere, however, the Rambam sees to imply otherwise.  In Hilkhot Dei’ot (5:7), the Rambam presents a list of qualities that must characterize the conduct of a Torah scholar by virtue of his unique stature, and he includes in this list the quality of dan et kol ha-adam le-khaf zekhut.  This would certainly suggest that this is not an outright obligation cast upon all people, but rather a special measure of piety that is unique to Torah scholars.  Similarly, in his commentary to Avot (1:6), where the Mishna exhorts us to judge our fellow favorably, the Rambam writes that this is required “be-derekh chasidut” – as a measure of piety.  These comments stand in direct contrast to his description of “be-tzedek tishpot amitekha” in Sefer Ha-mitzvot, where, as mentioned, he includes the requirement of judging people favorably under this Biblical command.

 

            The Chafetz Chaim addresses this question in the work for which he was so named (Chafetz Chaim, introduction, asin 3), where he distinguishes between two different requirements – one which is strictly required, and one which applies only “be-derekh chasidut  According to the strict obligation of “be-tzedek tishpot amitekha,” one must judge a generally pious person favorably under all circumstances, as well as an average person if the action in question can be reasonably interpreted favorably.  However, in the case of an average person who committed an act which appears to have been wrongful, there is no requirement to judge the action favorably, but there is certainly no obligation to assume guilt, either.  And thus “be-derekh chasidut,” as a measure of piety, one should give his or her fellow the benefit of the doubt even in such situations.  Although there is little room for doubt, it is admirable to use whatever room is available to judge favorably.

 

            The Chafetz Chaim insightfully notes how this distinction is subtly reflected in Chazal’s formulation of this halakha in the two contexts.  In Masekhet Shavuot, when the Gemara infers the obligation of judging favorably from the verse “be-tzedek tishpot amitekha,” the Gemara says, “hevei dan et chaveirekha” – we must judge our “chaveir” (“fellow,” or “friend”) favorably, referring to somebody whom we know, and whom we are thus strictly required to judge favorably, as we can vouch for his sterling reputation.  In Pirkei Avot, however, where – according to the Rambam – the Mishna speaks only of an additional measure of piety, Chazal exhort us to judge “kol ha-adam” – all people – favorably, even those who do not necessarily have a respectable reputation that warrants a favorable judgment.  In such situations, there is no strict requirement to judge the person favorably, but it is nevertheless admirable to do so as a measure of a piety.

 

Rav David Silverberg     

 

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(c) 2013 Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash, Yeshivat Har Etzion.


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