The Jewish judicial system was brought into existence after Moshe’s father-in-law Yisro criticized the system he felt was wrought with confusion and delay. In that system, Moshe bore the brunt of every minor complaint and grievance. He ruled on everything, and it was too much for him. His father-in-law would no longer allow it.
“What you are doing is no good.” cried Yisro. “You and the entire nation will wither from exhaustion.” (Exodus 18:17)
Yisro devised a plan in which judges were appointed on many levels. The simple cases would be presented to the lower judges, and the more difficult cases would work their way up the system until they finally reached Moshe. It was a workable plan that was received enthusiastically by Moshe and the leadership. It was the foundation for every judicial system from that time on.
Yisro ends his ingenious instruction with a blessing and an assurance. “If you do this thing — with G-d’s consent, then you will endure and the entire nation will arrive at their place in peace.” (Exodus 18:23)
They are very encouraging words. But they are difficult to relate to. What does expedient adjudication have to do with arriving at one’s destination or finding one’s place? What could Yisro mean by stating that if you mete out justice everyone will arrive at his place in peace? He should have said, “and the entire nation will live together in peace.” The words “arrive at his place in peace” seem to have little meaning.
Rabbi Chaim Kreisworth, the Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, Belgium, tells of a member of his congregation who approached him obviously quite upset.
“Rabbi,” he exclaimed, “I just don’t understand.” My friend Yankel and I began businesses of the same type at approximately the same time. He is doing remarkably well, while I am just floundering!.” “Are you working as hard as he is?” Rabbi Kreisworth asked.
“I sure am!” came the reply. “My place is right down the block from his, and I never close my shop until I see his car pull away!”
“Perhaps he has more employees?”
“Can’t be. I checked with his manager, and I have recently added two more than he has!”
“Perhaps the decor of his store is more attractive to consumers?”
“It just can’t be that, Rabbi. He remodeled last year, I checked the lighting, square footage, display cases — and on each count I outdid him when I remodeled a month later!”
At this point Rabbi Kreisworth smiled, “I have it all figured out. The reason Yankel is doing so much better than you is because he is only concerned in running his business. You, my friend, are running two! If you would just stay in your own place, you will also become a success.”
One of the Jewish people’s greatest assets is their ability to watch their own place. “How glorious are your tents, Jacob” is a reference to the dessert tents whose doorways did not face each other. When Jews argue and there is no justice, each one looks at the other: “what is he doing with my money?” However, when quick and fair justice is meted, each party can go home satisfied and ready to proceed with their own life. Yisro stated it with an exact certainty “and the entire nation will arrive at their place in peace.” If you have justice then everyone will truly arrive at his place in peace. No one will be interested in someone else’s place! And in that manner they all can find a place in peace.
Text Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.