Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

“The hand of the witnesses shall be upon him first to put him to death, and the hand of the entire people afterward, and you shall destroy the evil from your midst” (Devarim 17:7)

Why are the witnesses the ones who carry out the punishment against the criminal whom they testified against?


Imagine witnesses who felt that they were certain that the crime took place, however one seemingly minor detail is missing – they didn’t actually see the crime taking place. They may rationalize their testifying with the goal of obliterating the evil. Perhaps they did not even have certain knowledge of the crime, but they were just rotten people trying to do someone in. From their perspective, why should they not testify – after all they aren’t the ones who will activate the electric chair? They can watch the execution calmly, as casual observers.

Perhaps this is why the Torah requires them to take an active role in executing the punishment. They will not be able to rationalize, or be tempted to falsify testimony, complacently thinking that they are not causing any harm and are therefore not responsible for any indirect results of their actions.

The idea of us having to think through even remote consequences of our actions is found at the end of the Parsha as well. The elders must bring the “egla arufa” and declare that they did not murder this unknown victim. Do we really think that the elders murdered the victim? The Gemara explains that perhaps the leaders were indirectly responsible for causing the victim’s demise by not properly outfitting him for his journey.

The idea of looking at potential consequences applies in daily life as well. One more example in our parsha: a woodchopper may not indiscriminately chop a tree without ascertaining that it is safe to chop and that the axe is securely fastened to the handle. If not, his chopping may result in dire consequences, and he may have to spend the rest of his life in a city of refuge. In today’s world, we can apply this to motor vehicle safety.

The Torah emphasizes our mutual responsibility, teaching us that it extends beyond what meets the eye.

Shabbat Shalom


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Rav Korn is a senior Rabbi at Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh