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The beginning of Parshas Shoftim cautions the judges of the Jewish people, “Do not take a bribe (shochad)” (16:19). The Talmud (Kesuvos, chap. 13, “Shnei Dayanei”, pg. 105b) asks, “What is shochad?” The Gemara answers that “shochad” is a contracted word which means, “SHE’HU CHAD” (that he is alone).
The Gan Raveh explains this cryptic remark in light of another Talmudic passage (Shabbos, chap. 1, “Yetzios Hashabbos”, pg. 10a; Rav Chiya bar Rav M’Difti) that states, “Any judge who issues a true verdict is considered to be a partner with God in Creation.” Since taking a bribe prevents a judge from issuing a true verdict (Parshas Shoftim, 16:19), his ruling will not be just, and therefore he can no longer be called God’s partner in Creation. Therefore, the bribe (shochad) has led him to a state where he is alone (she’hu chad).
The Talmud (Kesuvos, chap. 13, “Shnei Dayanei”, pg. 105a) wonders what new idea we learn from the verse, “Do not take a bribe.” If the phrase is trying to teach us not to acquit the guilty and accuse the innocent, this idea is stated explicitly in the same verse, “You shall not pervert judgment” (Parshas Shoftim. 16:19). Rather, the Talmud explains that a judge must not take a bribe even if it is in order to acquit the innocent and accuse the guilty. Accepting a bribe is wrong even if the verdict issued is ultimately correct!
This raises a difficulty. Earlier, it seemed that shochad led to the corruption of justice, which distanced the dishonest judge from God. Now it seems that shochad applies even if the judge issues a true verdict. How, then, can we say that he is considered to be chad (alone)? Ultimately, he did what was right! Therefore, he should still be considered to be a partner with Hashem.
In order to resolve this difficulty, we must return to the Talmudic statement we mentioned initially: “Any judge who issues a true verdict (emes l’amito) is considered to be a partner with God in Creation.” The Divrei Chanoch wonders why the double expression emes l’amito (literally, “truthful truth”) is used here, when the single word emes (truth) would seem to suffice. Once absolute truth has been reached, what could possibly make it truer?
The Divrei Chanoch, based on the Beis Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 1:2), explains that even if the final ruling is true, a judge who accepts a bribe will still favor one party more than the other. This is a corruption, since the judge loves the party that gave him the bribe and hates the party that didn’t. Although the ruling itself may be emes, the judge’s emotions have been compromised, so the verdict cannot be emes l’amito. “Truthful truth” refers to the internal world as well, not merely an externally correct judgment.
The Divrei Chanoch goes on to explains why a judge who accepts a bribe, yet issues a true verdict, is nevertheless considered to be “alone.” In order to be a partner with God in Creation, a judge must be truthful through and through. Actions alone are insufficient; his emotions must also reflect his utter commitment to justice. We can learn from here that it is not enough just to act properly. We are expected to feel the right way, as well – to align our emotions with the will of God.
The Toras Avos understands emes l’amito a little differently. There are two levels of truth. The first level is intellectual, based on knowledge and reasoning. The second, a higher level, is emotional, drawn from the wisdom of the heart. It is crucial for the Torah learning that we acquire intellectually, to permeate our hearts emotionally. Torah study often changes the way we think – but we must be sure that it also changes the way we feel.
Perhaps we could suggest that this provides a deeper meaning behind another mitzvah found in this week’s portion which instructs a Jewish king to write two Torah scrolls for himself (Parshas Shoftim, 17:18; Breisa, Sanhedrin, chap. 2, “Kohen Gadol”, pg. 21b). Possibly, one Torah scroll is supposed to teach him intellectual truth, while the other Torah scroll is meant to teach him emotional truth.
We could go on to propose that it is only when we suffer from being a “Stiff Necked” people (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:9) that we do not allow the truth of the mind to penetrate the heart. The neck connects the brain to the heart. However, when it is stuffed up, it does not allow intellectual truth to travel to the heart and generate emotional truth. This leads to all sorts of sins.
Maybe, it is for this very reason that we find another mitzvah in this week’s portion, which is to axe the back of a heifer’s neck in the case of an unsolved murder (Parshas Shoftim, 21:4). This mitzvah reminds us that we must unclog “stiff-neckedness” in order to prevent crimes from happening.
As a practical means of implementing this teaching, we should try to learn aspects of Torah that not only stimulate our minds intellectually, but also study areas of Torah that appeal to our hearts emotionally. In this way, we can help assure that we further connect our minds to our hearts so that we become even more balanced in our behavior.
This would be a great way to prepare ourselves for the High Holidays during this month of Elul. One distinction that could be made between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that on Rosh Hashanah we are trying to fix our minds, whereas on Yom Kippur we are attempting to fix our hearts.
Rosh Hashanah is a very intellectual day where we must concentrate continuously on the fact that Hashem is Melech (King). This is why it is called ROSH Hashanah (the HEAD of the year), hinting that the focus is on the mind. This is also why we blow a shofar that is taken from the “head” of an animal. Again, the emphasis is on the mind. This is supposed to bring us to intellectual truth.
However, Yom Kippur is a very emotional holiday where we pour our hearts out to God with tear-filled prayers. This is why we spend a good amount of the day beating our chests in order to iron out the wrinkles of the heart.
Therefore, learning intellectual and emotional Torah at this time of year is a useful way of gearing up for the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe).
So, may we all merit reaching inward and outward by living a truly truthful life, by allowing Torah to penetrate our minds and hearts in order to improve our thoughts and our feelings. In this way, may we live up to the high standards of behavior that have been set for us, so that God will judge us favorably!
Good Shabbos and Warmest Wishes