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To dedicate this lesson

Be a Judge – Yes, You!


Rabbi Daniel Mann

Allow me to start with a personal note. One of my rabbinic responsibilities is to sit periodically as a dayan. On a day that I sit in a hearing or render a decision, I feel a certain tension in the air. My davening tends to be more serious. There are ‘butterflies in my stomach.’ What is special about this activity? While sometimes the issues involved can change the life of one or both of the litigants, that is not always the case, and the feeling exists either way. While I cannot define it exactly, it has to do with the imminence of Hashem’s involvement. We have learned that Hashem is present where there is judgment (Berachot 6a) and that rendering judgment is a Godly act (Devarim 1:17). One feels that when He is present and he, as a simple human being, is imitating his Maker, he better be on his best behavior.
I raise these points not for autobiographical reasons but because of a shocking point that Chazal saw in p’sukim we [Israelis] read this week. "Do not do iniquity in judgment" (Vayikra 19:35). Rashi cites the following: "If it is talking about judgment, it previously said, ‘Do not do iniquity in judgment’ (ibid. 15). What judgment is being taught about here? ‘… measure, weight, and volume’ (the continuation of our pasuk), for whoever measures is called a dayan, for if he lies about a measure, it is like he ruins a judgment, and he is called … despised, disgusting, …, he desecrates His name, … and causes the nation to be exiled from the Land."
How can a person who was not trained to be a judge be responsible to such a degree? How can he serve as a judge regarding his own finances, when a dayan has to recluse himself when he has even a mild conflict of interest? The answer is that the difficulty of a dayan is in weighing with his mind matters that are not clear cut. For this, one needs training, and nothing may be allowed to influence his thought process. One who buys and/or sells is just asked to be careful regarding matters that are clearly measurable and just require that one does not cheat.
If the process is so different, then in what way is it like being a dayan? The answer is that the experience of feeling Hashem’s presence and imitating His ways should be similar. While the cognitive process is very different, the experience of feeling the concern for upholding his integrity, which he received as a present from Hashem, is similar. When a grocer installs his scales, an employer does his payroll, or a worker gives in his hours, there is justice going on. Hashem trusts the individual to have the integrity required of a dayan. While it is hard to have butterflies every day, one should generally feel Hashem’s eyes looking over him during his business dealings (whether multi-million dollar deals, filing of taxes, or in a simple store, where shtick can be done by the seller or even the buyer).
In the merit of success in this matter, may we merit being called beloved, respected, … and help return our nation from the exile.
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