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Posted on February 8, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Do not pervert the judgment of your destitute in their grievance. Distance yourself from a false word. Do not execute the innocent or the righteous, for I will not exonerate the wicked.[1]

Chazal derive a number of halachos from these pesukim and the sequence of their different phrases. I’m going to enlarge the list!

The Chavos Yair raises an interesting point about trying cases in which a litigant is known to be an evil person. How is it possible to judge him, he asks. On the hone hand, we are instructed to hate an evildoer. On the other, a judge is forbidden to sit in judgment over a person he hates! This thinking would put all know resha’im beyond the letter of the law! Furthermore, it would create great benefit to evildoers. No one would ever be able to sue them in beis din!

Our first pasuk, however, provides the solution to the paradox. The Mechilta identifies the “destitute” as those poor in mitzvos. In other words, evildoers who disobey the law! By telling us not to show bias against them, it presupposes that we can judge them, so long as we subdue our hostility to them.

When are we enjoined against sitting in judgment against someone we hate? Only when we have some personal reason to hate the litigant. The Chavos Yair writes that he was once asked to be part of a tribunal to try a person who had previously sworn falsely in order to deny owing the Chavos Yair money that the talmid chacham had lent him. The Chavos Yair recused himself. While a person is expected to contain his animosity against an evildoer and still judge him fairly, the same cannot be expected if he had personal reasons to hate him. The judge should not rely on his fairness in such circumstances; he should fear that his bias will not allow him to see all arguments that work to support the position of this litigant.

All of this reasoning can be seen in the sequence of phrases in our pesukim. “Do not pervert the judgment of your destitute,” i.e., you may indeed sit in judgment against the wicked person who is poor in his observance of halacha. Still, “Distance yourself from a false word.” Don’t get trapped by the falsehood that because you are allowed to judge the general evildoer, you can trust yourself to judge fairly a person whom you have personal reason to hate. This just does not follow. You will stumble, and judge him improperly. And should you argue that it won’t matter if you judge him improperly, because as an evildoer, he deserves any punishment meted out by the court in return for his past evil behavior. You may argue that in general, Hashem stands behind the judges, and saves them from judicial error. He will do the same in a case against the evildoer. If the judges act in a biased manner against him, it is only because He wants the evildoer to be punished.

Regarding this, the Torah concludes, “Do not execute the innocent or the righteous, for I will not exonerate the wicked.” The reasoning is faulty. I will always stand with assuring a correct verdict in a given case, even on behalf of the evildoer. As far as the past evil deeds of the sinner, those are not the concern of the court. I have many ways of achieving justice. I will not exonerate the evil; My justice will eventually catch up with him. Your job on the court is to ensure that the trial is entirely fair. Even to him.

  1. Shemos 23:6-7