"...we would have been like Sodom, resembled Gemorrah..." (Yeshaya
The three Shabbasos that intervene between the seventeenth of
Tammuz and the ninth of Av are referred to as the "Shabbasos of calamity".
The Haftorah, the selection from the Prophets which is read on these
Shabbasos, reflects the mood of this time period, a period of national
mourning for the destruction of both Battei Hamikdash. The Shabbos prior to
Tish B'av, which is the last of the series, is known as Shabbos Chazone, and
the first chapter of the book of Yeshayahu is recited.
The Talmud sets forth the principle "Le'olam al yiftach adam piv laSatan" -
"A person should never open his mouth to Satan"; speech that calls for one's
own demise should be avoided. This principle is gleaned from this week's
Haftorah in which the prophet Yeshayahu bemoans the underlying causes which
led to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the severing of our
relationship with Hashem. The verse states that the Jewish people expressed
their appreciation to Hashem for having mercifully left a remnant of the
nation alive even though they deserved to be utterly destroyed as were the
inhabitants of Sodom. In the very next verse the prophet refers to Bnei
Yisroel as chieftains of Sodom. The Talmud explains that since Bnei Yisroel
compared themselves to the inhabitants of Sodom, they gave the prophet an
opening to label them as such.
The principle is generally understood to mean that by stating that something
of a malevolent nature will occur, a person gives himself an "ayin harah" -
"evil eye", subjecting himself to supernatural forces which demand that he
receive that which he wished upon himself. In the aforementioned situation,
this explanation does not seem to apply. The statement made by the Jewish
people was that they were grateful for not being destroyed. Furthermore, the
consequence of their actions was not that they were destroyed, rather that
they were labeled as chieftains of Sodom. How does this label indicate a
negative impact of Bnei Yisroel's statement?
Chazal are teaching us that we can affect our reality through our
perceptions of ourselves. When we say something negative about ourselves, we
can subject ourselves to this fate; by wishing upon ourselves a malady, we
can cause our bodies to produce this illness. Man has the ability to create
his own reality. The downfall created by Bnei Yisroel's statement was their
comparing themselves to the people of Sodom. This reflected their perception
of themselves, Thus allowing the prophet to identify them in such a manner.
Guilt By Perception
"I commanded your judges..." (1:16)
Continuing his account of the forty years that Bnei Yisroel sojourned in the
desert, Moshe recalls the creation of the legislature at the behest of his
father-in-law Yisro. The verse states that Moshe instructed the Judges
"Shamo'u bein acheichem ushfatetem tsedek" - "Listen between your brethren
and judge righteously." Why does the verse not state "listen to your
brethren" instead of "between your brethren"? Why is it necessary to
instruct the judges to listen to the litigants? Is it not obvious that a
judge must listen to the litigants prior to ruling? Why is it necessary for
Moshe to make the statement "judge righteously"?
Citing the Sifri, Rashi relates that the requirement of a judge to be
deliberate prior to ruling was included in Moshe's instruction. Even if
similar cases have passed before the court, they should not render judgement
hastily. This interpretation is the source for the first Mishna in Pirkei
Avos, "havu mesunim badin" - "be deliberate in judgment." Apparently, the
message is that each situation has nuances which may affect the outcome and
should therefore be analyzed with care. Although this directive applies to
criminal cases as well, it is written in the context of civil cases, "bein
acheichem" - "between your brethren", where mistakes are reversible and do
not endanger life. Why does the Torah specifically use the example of where
there are two litigants to give the message of "havu mesunim badin"? Why
does the Torah not include this requirement in the directive for doctors to
heal, where a lack of deliberation could result in the loss of life?
Requiring caution prior to making decisions is a self-evident truth, yet
this self-evident truth is given such priority that it is included in the
oral transmission of the first generation of the Anshei Keneses
Hagedolah. Why is it necessary to enjoin the judges concerning this matter?
The Mishna states that a judge should view both parties standing before him
as wicked until the matter is resolved. Generally, a person is presumed
innocent until proven guilty. Why must the judge consider them guilty?
The majority of civil disputes in a joint business venture do not occur
between individuals who have always maintained an adversarial relationship,
for they are careful to explicitly state the recourses which should be taken
for every possible situation that might arise. Most disputes occur when
there is an element of trust between the two parties, and therefore many
details of the fiscal relationship have been left unstated. Each person by
nature has a subjective perception of reality, and therefore perceives the
facts with his own bias. If a dispute cannot be resolved without Beis Din,
the judge must be aware that each person is adhering to his own skewed
perception, unwilling to see the perception of the other party and therefore
refusing to reconcile. Since neither perception is the objective reality, it
is the responsibility of the judge to ascertain the objective truth from
both subjective opinions. He must therefore begin by viewing both litigants
as wicked, i.e. distorting the truth.
The Torah is instructing the judge as to how to judge righteously. No two
cases are absolutely comparable for each person's perspective is entirely
different, and determining the objective truth requires great deliberation.
The judge does not listen to the litigants, rather, between the two opinions
a third must be formulated. A doctor's greatest collaborator in reaching a
diagnosis is the patient; based upon the patient's complaints and
information the doctor arrives at his diagnosis. The litigant has an
adversarial relationship with the judge, for the judge is searching for
objective truth while the litigant is offering a subjective perception. It
is therefore a much greater feat for the judge to be successful and he must
be enjoined to remain unaffected by the deceptions of his litigants.
6.Ibid 1:8, See Sefer Chasidim who prohibits the judge from looking at the
litigants faces for this reason.