Shoftim: You be the Judge
By Rabbi Yonah Burr
שפטים ושטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך אשר ד' אלקיך נתן לך לשבטיך ושפטו את העם משפט צדק: לא תטה משפט לא תכיר פנים ולא תקח שחד כי השחד יעור עיני חכמים ויסלף דברי צדיקם: צדק צדק תרדף למען תחיה וירשת את הארץ אשר ד' אלקיך נתן לך:
Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities-which Hashem, your G-d gives you – for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgement. You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not respect someone’s presence, and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked. Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue, so that you will live and possess the land that Hashem, your G-d gives you”
Whom is the Torah instructing?
At first glance, the mitzvah of appointing righteous judges seems like something that does not apply to the average person. After all, I am not a judge, nor do I have the authority to appoint judges. Surely, this mitzvah is only for an elite electoral body, one empowered with the task of nominating eligible candidates to govern the people.
Yet, when you reflect further into the pesukim, you may notice something interesting: They are written in a very personalized manner. Shall you appoint; You shall not pervert judgment; You shall not respect someone’s presence; You shall not accept a bribe.
Whom is the Torah speaking to? Is it speaking to the judges... or, to us?
We, the People
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l suggests that the Torah is speaking to each and every one of us. Every person must ultimately be their own judge, and each of us needs to ‘police’ our own actions. The rules that apply to a sitting judge also apply to every single Jew as we judge our own actions and make decisions regarding our behavior.
We certainly must not pervert judgment. We must make sure to make decisions in an unbiased manner.
We may not respect someone’s presence -- referring to ourselves. We should not take certain leniencies and rationalize their validity out of self-respect. We should review our own decisions as those of simple people.
And finally, we should not accept bribes -- ulterior motives or opportunities to benefit should not impact our decisions.
Rather, one should pursue righteousness by choosing a mentor, someone who, he is confident, will guide him properly. We are all judges as we navigate our own paths and make constant decisions on how to proceed. We, the people, are judges no less than the judges of the people, and the same rules and guidelines apply to us.
An Added Benefit
Ramban tells us that judging ourselves has an added benefit. If we fail to oversee our own actions, Hashem has no choice but to subject us to His judgment. But, if He sees that we judge ourselves, He doesn’t feel the need to judge us.
May we all be inscribed in the book of life, health, happiness, and spiritual growth!
Have a wonderful Shabbos.