The Torah states: “You shall not curse a judge, and a ruler among your people you shall not curse.” (Exodus 22:27) Even though you might think that a judge has erred in rendering a decision against you, you are forbidden to curse him. It is very possible that he is correct and you are wrong, but you are unaware of the justice because a person often overlooks his own guilt. However, even if a judge has erred, you nonethelss have no right to curse him.
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin relates the following story: “In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld lived in the Old City of Jerusalem. He was an exemplary talmud chacham (scholar) full of knowledge, wisdom and refined character. Before Rosh Hashana, someone who lost a court case over which Rav Yosef Chaim presided, approached Rabbi Sonnenfeld and cursed him for what he felt was a distortion of justice. Rabbi Sonnenfeld was grieved to see the man behave in such a manner, especially right before Rosh Hashanah. With an outward appearance of anger, he said to him, “Listen to me! If you are right, I will pray to God to forgive me, because a judge is not infallible and can only decide a case in the manner which he thinks correct. But if I am right…” The person was in a very nervous state as Rabbi Sonnenfeld continued, “If I am right, God should forgive you.” Upon hearing this, the man calmed down and asked forgiveness from Rabbi Sonnenfeld. When the man left, Rav Yosef Chaim explained to those who were in the room with him, “This man is really a fine person. I knew that when he would calm down, he would definitely regret his behavior and he would surely want to repent for what he has done. However, knowing that for his repentance to be accepted he would have to ask me for forgiveness, he might have been embarrassed to approach me and wouldn’t repent at all. I therefore decided to make it easier for him to repent.”
The Torah states: “Do not go after the majority to do evil” (Exodus 23:2). Rabainu Bachya explains that the plain meaning of our verse is that if you see many people doing something that is wrong, you should not follow their example.It is natural for a person to imitate the behavior of others and say, “So many other people are doing this, it can’t be so wrong if I do it also.” The Torah is telling us that every person is responsible for his own behavior and that Truth is not legislated by majority rule. It takes courage and strength of character to be different from other people and to live your life by your ideals. If you appreciate that the most important thing in the world is to do the will of the Almighty, you will be able to withstand social pressure.
Before Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the stone Tablets, he and seventy elders were at the foot of the mountain. There: “They saw a vision of the God of Israel, and under His feet was something like a sapphire brick, like the essence of a clear sky” (Exodus 24:10). What can we learn from their vision? Rashi comments that the brick was in the presence of the Almighty during the time the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt to remind Him of their suffering since they were forced to build with bricks in their slavery. “The essence of a clear sky” is a reminder that once they were liberated there was light and joy before the Almighty. Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz comments that whenever the Torah tells us about the attributes of the Almighty, the purpose is to teach us how we should strive to emulate Him. When someone else suffers, it is not sufficient for us just to try to feel his suffering in the abstract, we should try to ease his suffering if we can. We should also do some concrete action that will clearly remind us of the person’s suffering – rather than just forgetting it and continuing on with our lives. Even at the time of redemption and joy, it is important to recall the previous suffering that one experienced. This adds an entire dimension to the joy. Many people would just like to forget all their suffering when it is over. The proper attitude is to remember it, and this will give a person an even greater appreciation for the good that he experiences.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim