Thursday, March 12, 2015

Vayakhel/Pekudei 5775 (Shabbos Parah), March 2015; Justice and Judgement

This week I am writing about a subject I am very vocal and passionate about personally: justice and judgement within the Jewish community, by individuals and by the common consent of communal practice and discourse.

At the end of sefer Bereishis, there came a culminating lesson of the entire Torah to that point related to achdus, perfect brotherhood and love. Likewise, we now end sefer Shemos with a cumulative lesson. This time though in these last parshiyos of the sefer it relates to a new concept, that of when and how we pass judgement on the actions of others and when we leave judgement off the table to simply continue to show achdus. (Note: we are reading two separate parshiyos, but these are in fact read together almost every year of the calendar cycle with only a few years in which the two are separated)
Not Jewish judgement just a silly 5 year old

At the end of last week's parsha, the tribe of Levi joined Moshe in forming Batei Din, courts, to judge the people following the sin of the Golden Calf. Whoever was found guilty of having been warned clearly not to worship the idol AND had been later observed doing so by two kosher witnesses who would stand before the court was liable to the death penalty by the court (Midrash haGadol, Zohar). G-d thereafter sent a plague which served as justice killing those who were not liable to the human courts but who were liable for their sins before the Heavenly Court (Yoma, Midrash haGadol).

Now at the beginning of this week's reading, Moshe instructs the Jews on the laws of Shabbos observance. He warned them that anyone who violated the laws of the 39 melachos of Shabbos after being halachically warned and who did so in the presence of two kosher witnesses was liable again for capital punishment, and that anyone who had performed melachah on Shabbos but who could not be convicted before Beis Din for want of warning or witnesses or both would be judged and punished through Divine Retribution (Mechilta D'Roshvei).

We then finish parshas Pekudei reading about the glory of the Mishkan, the Shechinah which rested within, and the visible power G-d had over all of his creation, particularly visible to the Jews at every moment when they could see the Mishkan, the Cloud of Glory, the Cloud of Fire. There could be no questioning at that time whether G-d had the ability to see into every heart and judge accordingly.

Yet today, we do not let judgment rest within Beis Din and the Heavenly Court. We judge others constantly within our own hearts and minds, and within communities. We even approach legislators of the civil government and support legislating what we feel is political sentiment supported by Torah because we pass judgement on others' behavior rather than supposing that the halachic court and Heavenly Tribunal will do so. I am not going to take a stand on specific political issues here because I feel this isn't my personal venue to do so (though all who know me personally already probably can infer areas I have in mind here and are welcome to discuss them with me privately).

But I will simply remind us all that G-d is perfect in his love and perfect in his judgement. We have just learned the Heavenly Attributes we invoke at our holidays to this day begging for mercy on ourselves. We will in fact say these words at the upcoming Passover holiday. Yet how can we beg for mercy on ourselves if we judge others outside of what the Jewish law allows?

If an individual is guilty of a halachic violation, they can be judged by a Beis Din. If an individual is actually "guilty" in action but cannot be judged by a Beis Din because they have not been appropriately warned or two kosher witnesses cannot be produced to testify about their sin, that individual cannot be judged by other Jews in this world. It is fully incumbent on us in that case to trust in Divine Wisdom, and to trust that the Heavenly Court will fully reward or punish the individual in this world and the world to come, exactly as the individual deserves.

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