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Parshas Bamidbar (5777)

You Be The Judge!

The entire Book of Deuteronomy, which we begin to read this Shabbos in the synagogue, was spoken by Moses in the last five weeks of his life. It was his last will and testament to his beloved people, imparting to them sage advice and great wisdom, the use of which could help them make the most out of their lives and reach their true potential in the new land of Israel which they were about to enter. Because they were surely confident that they would not succumb to the alien influences and temptations of Canaan, he began his words by reminding them of the long string of sins that marked the forty years since the Exodus.

Among the many exhortations, warnings, lessons, and commandments that Moses gave to the Jewish people, he included a brief history of how the system of judges and law enforcement originated and developed during the Jews’ long sojourn in the desert. Moses concluded this lesson by telling them:

“I instructed your judges at that time, saying, ‘Listen among your brethren and judge righteously between a man and his brother or his litigant. You shall not show favoritism in judgment, small and great alike shall you hear; you shall not tremble before any man, for the judgment is G-d’s; any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I shall hear it’.” (Deuteronomy 1:16-17)

Although there is definitely what to learn from the history of the Jewish justice system that was set up by G-d and Moses in the desert, we have to ask ourselves why did Moses deem it so important to include this lesson in his last speech to the Jewish people? Why is this information that the entire Jewish people had to know? I mean, how many of them were actually judges and/or law enforcers that it was considered necessary to share this history lesson with the whole nation?


The truth is that Moses was not only directing his message at a select few Jews who were chosen to be the judges for the rest of the nation. He was talking to all of us. That’s right … to you and me and everyone else. Each and every one of us is a judge, and the lessons that Moses taught about how to make proper judgments, are lessons that each one of us needs to know, so as to be able to make the right choices throughout our lives.

You see, all day long and all through life, we are forced to make decisions, and the vast majority have a better or worse consequence.

Getting out of bed or not / Should I eat more even though I’m full? / Should I give money to this poor person? / Paper or plastic? / Should I go to class today? / Coke or Pepsi? / etc. etc.

Sometimes the decisions we must make are majorly important and can have life-impacting ramifications to them.

Do I marry him/her or not? / Do I leave the firm to join a startup / Should we enroll our child in a Hebrew Day School? / Should I take a puff of the cigarette? / Do we need to move closer to the synagogue so as to be more involved with the community on Shabbos? / etc. etc.

Life is full of decisions, and we are constantly being forced to judge between right and wrong, good and bad, beneficial and harmful.

Unfortunately, there are many factors that tend to cloud our minds and blur our vision, making it very difficult for us to make wise, deliberate decisions about the issues and situations that arise in our daily lives.

Sometimes, we are impulsive, and our drives and desires for instant gratification don’t allow us to stop and think about the consequences of the decision we are about to make. Other times, it’s peer pressure and/or other cultural and social pressures that the media and society in general have foisted upon us, making it very hard for us to think carefully and judge objectively regarding a particular decision that is confronting us.

Or maybe it’s just the “fear factor” – we don’t let ourselves judge the issue properly for fear that we might have to change our lives based on the decision that we make, and right now we don’t like that to happen. We also often lack the wisdom and knowledge to make the right choices. Wisdom helps us discover what is valuable so that we can make proper judgments

So, you see, there are a lot of reasons why we can really mess up big-time when it comes to making decisions in life. And when it’s just paper or plastic, the consequences are not that great. But there are lots of bigger decisions that come up in life, and if we don’t have the tools or the clear head to make the right choices, we can potentially destroy our careers, marriages, or even our lives. Pretty scary, eh?


It is to this issue that Moses is addressing himself to the Jewish people. Moses is telling us in the aforementioned verse a vital lesson for life – how to make good judgments and wise choices without letting ourselves become affected by the factors listed above.

Moses thus shares with all of us the four things we need to be careful about when we are about to make decisions in life:

(1) “Listen among your brethren and judge righteously” - Make sure to listen carefully to all sides of the issue at hand, and not to be hasty in making decisions. Be deliberate in judgment, think before you leap, don’t act on impulse.

(2) “You shall not show favoritism in judgment, small and great alike shall you hear” - Always remember to judge and decide on the issue itself, while ignoring the reactions and the feelings of the people who are affected by the decision you are making. It may not be popular with your friends; you may lose favor with small people or great people. Pay no attention to all the peer pressure and to what people are going to say, and just do what’s right.

(3) “You shall not tremble before any man, for the judgment is G-d’s” – Don’t be afraid that you might lose out in some way or get hurt by the choice that you are making, even if it entails changing your life around a little bit. Don’t tremble and don’t worry, because, ultimately, you are in G-d’s hands, and He guarantees that you will never lose out by doing the right thing.

(4) “Any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I shall hear it’ – If you feel that you don’t have enough information or wisdom to be able to judge the issue properly, speak to someone who does have the wisdom and the clarity with which to guide you through your decision-making process. Swallow your pride, and bring your question to someone older and wiser than you, and let him hear it.

If we take this advice from Moses – who, I might add, was definitely older and wiser than the rest of the Jewish people – then we will no doubt be better equipped to deal with all the many choices and big and little decisions that come our way all day and every day.

[Sources: Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash]

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