Judging a Gift

Parshas Shoftim

We are charged to appoint judges and police officers in every city to administer honest judgment for the masses. Life as we know it cannot exist without a judicial framework. In the absence of a legal system the strong will oppress the weak, fear and dread would be the lot of society. Additionally the external impetus for spiritual exactitude promotes happiness amongst men, as Man can only be fulfilled within a framework.


The wording of this commandment warrants elucidation. The Torah in instructing us to assign judges and law enforcement officers states “give yourselves judges”. Wouldn’t “appoint yourselves judges” seem a more appropriate choice of expression?


Our childish perception of giving is a transfer of ownership from the presenter – the giver, to the recipient – the taker. Rav Dessler teaches that one can actually give to another by taking from them. It is possible for the one accepting to be doing a bigger turn than the giver does by bestowing. I grasped this clearly from an incident which took place in my teens. One Friday afternoon I brought a family flowers for Shabbos out of gratitude for having been invited for Friday night dinner. The hostess refused the flowers and I felt bad; it would have been more generous of her to accept the flowers. That would have been “giving” not taking.

There is an extra lesson to be learnt from the wording of the Torah instead of merely appointing ourselves judges, we are taught, that we derive more benefit by having a judicial system, then the benefit the judges accrue from us. When appointing judges, we may feel the judges are the recipients; they are receiving honor, prestige and power. The Torah teaches us “Give yourselves judges” you are really doing yourself a favor, you are the beneficiary.


Having a law system is a gift.


Once, Reb Aryeh author of the eponymous Lev Aryeh visited Rabbi Yosef Babad (1801-1874) of Tarnopol author of the Minchas Chinuch. Rabbi Yosef told Reb Aryeh “Our Sages teach us that one who gives another a gift is required to inform the recipient of the gift. In light of this statement,” Rabbi Yosef continued,” I want you to know that I tried to arrange a position for you in the rabbinate. I spoke with representatives of a certain community on your behalf. Unfortunately, they did not heed my advice and my good intentions bore no fruit.”

Reb Aryeh replied; ”For this I owe you a debt of double gratitude.”

“Double gratitude?” wondered Rabbi Yosef. “What do you mean?”

“If I had been accepted for that pulpit, it would have only been because that is what Hashem wanted,” explained Reb Aryeh. ”Hashem has many messengers to make an appointment occur, your involvement would have been but one of the means to bring it about, even if you are but a agent I still have to be grateful. On the other hand, now that I have been turned down it is obvious that Heaven has not decreed me to lead this community. As such, it is clear that what you did was not as Hashem’s messenger but of your own desire to help me. Therefore I am doubly grateful to you.”

Weekly Halachah

If a man threatens to leave his wife an Agunah, Beis Din are permitted to jail him even on Shabbos (Mishnah Berurah 339:14).


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