Parshat Devarim


לֹא-תַכִּירוּ פָנִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט, כַּקָּטֹן כַּגָּדֹל תִּשְׁמָעוּן

You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike.

This verse from this week’s parshah is one of the numerous Torah lines requiring us to judge others fairly – see also Shemot 23:3 or Vayikra 19:15 for instance. Our Sages and later commentators have written extensively about our obligations regarding this aspect of Jewish law and its implications.

Thus in Journey to Virtue: The Laws of Interpersonal Relationships, in Business, Home and Society, Rabbi Avrohom Ehrman warns that we should use the same sympathetic standards in judging strangers than we use in judging someone close to us.

Conversely in A Code of Jewish Ethics, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin notes that some people tend to judge those closest to them most harshly.

If you fall into such a category, resolve to treat your family with the same courtesy and fairness you extend to others.

Regarding judging others fairly, I have always been made to feel uneasy when in some classes our administration refuses to punish students on the basis that they come from difficult backgrounds or have problems.

A remark last week by Moussa Nabati – a Jewish psychonalysist – on the French TV led me to understand my reaction. He contends that by judging each man fairly, whatever their personal circumstances, society acknowledges the equal dignity of all its citizens. Furthermore Nabati firmly believes that such a treatment enables most offenders to leave their shady past behind and regain the self-respect they need to consider the future more serenely.

Leora examines another aspect of this week’s portion

6 thoughts on “Parshat Devarim

  1. Given the recent discussions about appointing a judge to the Supreme Court of the United States, this discussion is very timely.

    I can understand your hesitation about your school administration’s stand. As a parent, I know if kids get away with something, they don’t learn for the next time. Sometimes the problem kids are the ones without a parent who gives proper structure.

  2. Yes, I do tend to agree. Allowing the ‘problems’ to act as an excuse for poor behaviour in school will imply that these ‘problems’ can be used in the same way in adult life. I think that children prefer boundaries so that they know what is expected of them.

    My step-dad used to deal with these kinds of issues in school all the time as head of lower school – he thought that most of the time bad behaviour arose because of a need for attention. Very sad.

  3. Thank you for the thoughts. My second and third daughters fight constantly, and I often get the sense that the second doesn’t feel the need to treat the third with the same courtesy as she does friends and strangers. This is disturbing to me, and I am trying to help her understand this very important concept.

    Thank you also for the hydrangeas. So elegant.

  4. I agree with you that children shouldn’t be favored because they have a difficult past, but rather they should be disciplined just like the rest. The only difference would be in how it is done. Every child has different needs and should be treated differently. What works for one child, won’t necessarily work for another. Actually we learn that you shouldn’t go against the nature of the child, rather channel their nature the right way.

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