Halacha for Friday 23 Shevat 5781 February 5 2021

Parashat Yitro - A Truly Correct Judgement

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

This Shabbat we shall read about Yitro, Moshe Rabbeinu’s father-in-law, who saw his son-in-law Moshe Rabbeinu adjudicating the people’s cases from morning until evening. He advised him how best to manage the judicial process for the people. In the Torah’s words: “The next day, Moshe sat to judge the people. They stood around Moshe from morning to evening” (Shemot 18:13).

Rashi quotes the Gemara (Shabbat 10a): And do you really think that Moshe Rabbeinu was sitting and judging all day? When did he study Torah himself? So from here we are taught that any Dayan who judges a truly correct judgement, even if just momentarily, the Torah considers it as if he is toiling in Torah all day long and he becomes a partner with Hashem in Creation.

Much has been written about the concept of “a truly correct judgement”, why the repetition, it would have sufficed to simply state “ a correct judgement” and what therefore is the meaning of “a truly correct judgement”? And is there such a thing as a correct judgement that is not true?

In the commentary known as the Derisha (Rav Yehoshua ben Alexander HaCohen Falk  z”l 1555-1614) on the Tur (Choshen Mishpat 1:2), he explains that every law of the Torah is true, but it can transpire that depending on the time and place, one is not required to adjudicate according to Torah law, but rather beyond the letter of the law and according to the Dayan’s wisdom based on the case presented to him. This is the concept of “a truly correct judgement”, that in certain circumstances the judgement is true, not just the law of the Torah itself, but to administer a righteous ruling as the Dayan sees fit. Appropriate to those before him, in order to bring the two plaintiffs to accept the ruling with love and affection.

Maran the Rishon Letzion Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l (in his work Anaf Etz Avot) quotes a story about the Gaon Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel z”l, who was the Av Bet Din in his city and who adjudicated the Jewish people with great wisdom and understanding. One day two female plaintiffs approached him for a Din Torah, and this is what transpired:

Two ladies laundered white shirts for their families. They hung them in the courtyard on ropes to dry in the sun. Thieves passed by and stole the white shirts that were on one of the ropes, but the garments remained hanging on the second rope. Each one argued that the other lady’s were stolen and hers remained.

The Rav heard their claims and knew that one wasn’t telling the truth, and smiled in his mind with a plan to expose the truth.

Immediately, the rav ordered that the ladies bring him the white garments that remained and which weren’t stolen, and then he requested that the ladies leave the room. After they left, he called his Rebbetzin and requested that she bring his white shirts that were in the home and he mixed them in with the shirts that the ladies brought, which weren’t stolen from the rope.

Then he requested that one of the ladies return and he asked her, “Do you recognise with absolute certainty which garments are yours?” “Yes” she replied, “I recognise with certainty which garments are mine!” The rav warned her, “Look carefully, perhaps you may make be mistaken?” “I am not mistaken!” Retorted the lady. “I recognise with certainty my garments very well! If you will place them before me, I will be able to ascertain straightaway.” They placed them before her and she said, “This is mine! This is mine! This isn’t mine, and also this isn’t mine.” And so, she chose very carefully her garments, separating the rav’s clothes from her garments.

The rav told her to wait outside. He called the second lady whom the rav also asked, “Do you recognise with absolute certainty which are your garments?” “Yes,” replied the second lady, “I recognise my garments very well.” And immediately she began to sort the garments that were before her and she said, “This is mine, this is mine, and this is also mine.” And so it was for all the garments before her, including he rav’s personal garments that she claimed also as hers.

The rav was cross with her and said, “You are not telling the truth! How can it be that also my garments are yours?” And with this the rav exposed the truth when the two ladies came for a Din Torah, they tangibly saw who is speaking the truth and who isn’t.

This is a Dayan who really knows to judge a truly correct judgement.

Shabbat Shalom!

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