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PARSHAT EMOR: THE PERILS OF JUDGEMENT

Emor (Leviticus 21-24 )

The Parsha ends with the tragic story of the blasphemer – the man who cursed G-d when he was not accepted into any Tribe by the Jewish Court of Law (Beit Din), because his father was non-Jewish and the membership of a Tribe was dependent on the father’s Tribe. The Torah does reveal that his mother was Shulamis Bas Dibri from the Tribe of Dan. The Rabbis teach a number of causes for his terrible actions. However, the Daat Zekeinim offer another suggestion. They note the Torah’s emphasis on the fact that his mother was from the Tribe of Dan. They cite a Gemara1 that says that if one sees a person who always wants to go to Beit Din to resolve issues is likely from the Tribe of Dan, as the name Dan means ‘judgment’. Rashi elaborates: “The one that says ‘come to din (judgment)’ in all his dealings with people he would always say to come to judgment, and would only listen to another person through a judge.”

The Chiddushei Lev2 discusses this Gemara and the Daat Zekeinim’s connection of it to the story of the blasphemer. He notes that the Daat Zekeinim understands the Gemara to be criticizing this trait of always going to judgment. He asks why that is so bad – this person seems to be a man of truth who is ready to do the right thing according to the law. He answers that this kind of behavior is not in fact praiseworthy because it can often lead to disputes. When a person is not willing to make compromises or to be give up his claim, then there is a good chance that his actions will breed negativity and could even lead to open fighting. The Daat Zekeinim is explaining that this trait caused the blasphemer to come to clash with his fellow Jews, and eventually led to his terrible action of cursing G-d.

The Chiddushei Lev poses another question on the explanation of the Daat Zekeinim’s understanding of the Gemara. The Gemara derives that people from the Tribe of Dan like going to judgment from the blessing that Yaakov gave to his son, Dan. “Dan Yadin Amo K’echad miShivtei Yisrael.”3 – “Dan his people will judge like one of the Tribes of Israel.” The Daat Zekeinim understands that this verse is the source of Dan’s negative trait of going to judgment, yet the simple understanding of Yaakov’s words are certainly not negative. Rather, Yaakov was blessing the Tribe of Dan that they would merit to have a Judge who would lead the Jewish people. This indeed came to fruition in the form of Shimshon. Accordingly, how can the Daat Zekeinim understand the verse to be revealing a negative trait?

The Chiddushei Lev answers that certainly Yaakov blessed the Tribe of Dan to have the positive traits of adherence to truth and justice. These are excellent traits as they enable a person to follow the true path and to distance himself from sins. However, this same positive trait has the potential to be misused if the person refuses to ever give in on his opinion or his view of how things should be. This can lead to sins in the realm of bein adam l’chaveiro (inter-personal relationships) as it can easily lead to hatred and disputes. The members of the Tribe of Dan were supposed to use this trait in the correct way but the type of person described by the Gemara as always going to Court, and the blasphemer himself, misused the trait with disastrous consequences.

The Chiddushei Lev teaches that we learn from here an important principle with regards to character traits in general. Even with regard to traits that are generally viewed as positive, a person must be careful to avoid letting such traits cause him to sin. With regard to the specific area of strictly adhering to the letter of the law, some people do have a natural leaning towards justice and truth. As the Chiddushei Lev points out, these are admirable traits, but at the same time, if a person does not control his character traits and does not direct them to serving G-d, then they can easily cause him to treat other people overly strictly and to avoid necessary compromises.

In this vein, the Gemara teaches that the Temple was destroyed because people were exacting on each other and treated them according to the strict letter of the law4. This demonstrates the seriousness of being overly strict. Moreover, even though another Gemara teaches that the second Temple was destroyed because of a different reason – baseless hatred – it seems that the two Gemaras complement each other. Because people were so exacting, it resulted in the proliferation of negativity and disputes.

May we all merit to apply the traits of judgment and truth in the right way.

By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Notes

  1. Pesachim, 4a.
  2. Vayikra, p.152. The Chiddushei Lev is written by Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz who was the Rosh Yeshiva of Chofetz Chaim in Queens, New York.
  3. Bereishit, 49:16.
  4. Bava Metsia, 30b.


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