Beit Midrash

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Equality before the Law


Rabbi Shmuel Holshtein

The Torah prohibits imbalanced justice toward a disadvantaged person such as convert or an orphan, stating, "Do not pervert the judgment of a stranger or of the fatherless" (Devarim 24:17)

No matter how intensely she searched, the Rebbitzin-the wife of the renowned Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Broide from Salant-could not find her treasured scarf, as if it had disappeared into thin air. This was an exceptional scarf-its masterfully created blend of rare and expensive silks gave it a special gentle radiance and an unparalleled beauty. There was another reason it was her prize possession-it was her inheritance from her mother.
After three days of exhausting, fruitless searching, the time came for suspicions. The main suspicion fell, naturally, on the impoverished maid employed in the Rabbi's home. The Rebbitzin, realizing that the maid was the only person in the world who knew where the scarf was hidden, began to badger her, demanding that she return it immediately. The latter's claims that she hadn't seen the scarf for many months, and that she had no part, G-d forbid, in any wrongdoing, were of no avail; the Rebbitzin only sharpened her verbal assaults against the unfortunate maid. The situation escalated to the point that the Rabbi himself heard his wife screaming at the maid. In answer to his query, the Rebbitzin detailed all of her claims against the maid who, in her opinion, was the thief. The Rabbi, who had listened to every word his wife had said, explained to her that she had two choices. Either prosecute the maid in the Beit Din (the Rabbinical Court), or, if the Rebbitzin didn't have enough evidence to sue her there, then neither did she have enough justification to scream at her, and she must stop doing that immediately. The Rebbitzin accepted the Rabbi's judgment, and despite the great difficulty, went back to treating the maid exactly as she had before the unfortunate incident.
A few months later, the Rebbitzin felt that by then she had accumulated enough evidence of the maid's guilt in the disappearance of the precious scarf, and decided to sue her in the city's Beit Din. On the day the Rebbitzin had arranged for the hearing, as she prepared to leave for the Rabbinical Court, she told the Rabbi she was going to sue the maid for the theft of the scarf. On hearing this, the Rabbi also began to prepare to go to the court. The Rebbitzin, somewhat offended, thought, "Doesn't he think I can contend with the maid by myself?" Besides, it seemed undignified to her that the great Rabbi should come to court to prosecute a poor maid. She shared her thoughts with her husband in order to discourage him from troubling himself to come to the Beit Din, since she was convinced that she would win the case without his help. The Rabbi smiled and agreed that his wife was probably right. However, he explained, when the maid would come to the court and hear her mistress the Rebbitzin confidently proclaiming her accusations against her, the pathetic defendant would be incapable of defending herself properly. The resulting verdict would not be true justice but perverted justice. "It is quite clear to me that you will succeed in stating your claims very well before the Beit Din," the Rabbi explained. "I, therefore, am coming to court in order to assist the maid to state her own case no less well than you."
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