Mishpatim – Societal perfection Through the Torah

Mishpatim

Societal perfection Through the Torah

When G-d gave the Torah to the people of Israel, he new that society was far from being socially perfect. He saw that men will unwittingly do many of the nastiest things to each other: they will steel from one another, kill each other, and lie.

The Torah, which was given some 3,500 years ago, corrects many societal problems. Many of these problems are addressed in the weekly portion, Mishpatim. Of the 613 commandmants in the Torah, 53 are in this portion, most of which address the correction of societal problems. In the following discussion three have been chosen at random which show us how to address societal injustices.

The first is, (Ex. 23, 6) “Do not lean the law against the pauper in his litigation”. Today we live in a society based on the motto, “All men are created equal”, inwardly we accept the concept and we have many laws to back up the motto, outwardly we often practice the cliche that some men are more equal than others.

Through statistical research it has been learned that when different youth perform the same number of malicious acts, say steeling a car. Lower class youth are incriminated while middle class youth are not even arrested. The police will say that the low class youth are mallicious and deserve to be put in rehabilitation centers, while the upper class youth are assumed to be only practical jokers.

This concept and its problems are clearly addressed by the Torah in the statement, “Do not lean the law against the pauper in his litigation”. Theoretically we know this to be true, but unfortunately we also know that we do not always practice it. Thousands of years ago when we received the Torah this statement was far more revolutionary, in every context, than it is today since rights were always unquestionably in the hands of the wealthy, may they be land owners, slave owners, or wealthy business men (all of these have verses comanding proper ways of dealing with them). Society has come a long way but we know we have much further to go. Thankfully, we have the Torah to guide us on the right path in these social manners.

On this verse, the Midrash takes the point of not leaning the law against people to its furthest extent; “If a wicked man and a law abiding citizen come in front of you {in the court} do not lean the law against the wicked person since he is a pauper in mitzvoth” (Mechiltah). Even though our legal system also forbids taking a defendants past into account, it is inevitable that discusion of the defendants records come up during the courts proceedings. Our rabbis totally understood this tendency in their above statement, therefore, they forwarned judges not to give in to this tendency.

The second verse is, “Keep away from falsehood” (Ex. 23, 7). Every society knows that lieing is wrong. Our Torah has not only commanded us not to lie but has told us to keep far away form any falsehood, just like someone should keep away from the plague.

We know that lies stick. When we hear anything, wether truth or falseshood we remember it. This is a function of the primary effect, which means that people have a tendency to remember what we first heard and to digest it and not to pay heed to what we have subsequently learned about the same subject, this has been proved time and again. G-d, who created man, knows that man is imperfect, he has told him how to keep away from falsehoods, so that he will not be affected by it.

So far did our rabbis take this point that they said, in the Mechilta, that our verse has taught us the fact that lawyers may not enter the court room. This is because our rabbis new that professional defenders will look for the defence of their client s even at the expense of the truth.It is forbiden to allow lawers to enter the court Torah method of examinig and cross examining witnesses Even lawyers agree

Our last verse teaches how to avoid what Social Psychologists have termed deindividuation: this is the phenomenon which occurs when a person loses his individual identity and self awareness within a crowd and stops evaluating his situation is “You should not follow a multitude to do evil, neither should you speak to pervert justice, a case must be decided by the majority”. Rashi says that this verse has very many explanations and each one is nicer than its predecessor. Halachically speaking, Rashi says that the first part of the verse refers to capital litigation and the statement “Do not follow a multitude to do evil” is a commandment that in order to incur capital punishment a simple majority is not enough, instead a majority of at least two is required. To acquite a peron for capital punishment or even to incriminate a person in any other civil case a simple majority is enough.

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