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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.



Rosh Chodesh - Monday, 1 Av 5774 – July 28, 2014             


            In Parashat Devarim Moshe recalls the instructions he issued to the judges he appointed, including the warning, “Lo takiru panim ba-mishpat” – not to show favoritism in judgment (1:17).  The plain meaning of the verse is that it warns not to acquit or convict based on a litigant’s social, financial or political stature, or because of any personal connection with the judge.  Chazal, however, explain this prohibition differently, noting that the command in the previous verse – “u-shfatetem tzedek” – requires judges to rule honestly, objectively and fairly.  Therefore, as Rashi cites from the Sifrei, Chazal interpreted “lo takiru panim ba-mishpat” as referring to something else – the appointment of judges.  In this verse the Torah commands that these appointments must be made based on a candidate’s credentials, and not based on any other factor.  The Rambam lists this prohibition as one of the 613 Biblical commands (lo ta’aseh 275), and he discusses this law in Hilkhot Sanhedrin (3:8), where he writes, “Any Sanhedrin, king or exilarch who appoints upon Israel a judge who is not competent and not knowledgeable in the wisdom of Torah or worthy of being a judge, even though he is entirely pleasant and has other qualities – those who appointed him violate a prohibition.” 

            Although this prohibition relates to the specific issue of appointing judges, its relevance and significance apply well beyond this particular context.  We have to choose carefully the people to whom we look for “judgment,” for distinguishing right from wrong, for determining what is appropriate and what isn’t, for deciding what is proper and what isn’t.  Many of our ideas, values and opinions are shaped by what certain influential individuals think and say, and we must be very careful in deciding whose influence we wish to come under.  As the Rambam writes, a person with an impressive and charismatic character (“kulo machmadim”) is not necessarily worthy of serving as a judge.  Admirable rhetorical skills and an appealing physical appearance do not give somebody the credentials to make decisions on the pressing issues of the day.  Likewise, a gifted writer is not necessarily qualified to arbitrate on important ethical or religious matters.  The Torah thus warns, “lo takiru panim ba-mishpat.”  We must reserve the power of “judgment” for those who are truly qualified for this role, and not blindly follow the preferences and decisions of those to whom we are drawn because of their irrelevant talents and skills.


Rav David Silverberg       



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