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Exercising Good Judgement -Parsha Video Blog

The Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Israel from Talmudic Times

Shortly after the founding of the State of Israel, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, proposed to re-establish the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish Religious Supreme Court which judged all matters in the time of the Second Temple. It was a body which brought together the greatest sages of the Jewish people to legislate, judge and have final say on all matters of Jewish law. It was disbanded two thousand years ago a few hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Bringing back the Sanhedrin symbolically represented the unification of the Jewish people and a step towards the Messianic renewal of the land of Israel. Rabbi Maimon’s dream was not to be, you try getting together all the Rabbis in the world to agree on who should sit on this body.

This week’s Torah reading is Mishpatim, the detailed laws transmitted by Moshe after the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. After setting down many areas of civil law, towards the end of the parsha there is a striking verse. It says, speaking of the judges: “ do not take a bribe, because a bribe blinds the eyes of those with insight, and warps the words of the righteous.” (Exodus 23:8). The question is asked why does the Torah use two separate expressions, blinding and warping judgement, wouldn’t one warning be enough? Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, who is a noted Rabbi and psychiatrist offers a fundamental psychological insight to answer this question. He says that when we have a difficult decision to make, or a moral dilemma, we often are not objective. We have our own personal agenda and bias promoting our own self-interest weighing in on the matter. This is the ‘bribery’, the ends that we want to bring about for our personal gain. Rabbi Twerski explains that denial and rationalization are two psychological tools which we use to bring about own personal goal. In the first case, when we are in denial, we avoid even asking ourselves the question, ‘is this allowed, is this something I should be doing?’ We elude looking at the dilemma honestly and we just move forward. This what the Torah means when it says ‘blinding the eyes of those with insight’. The second tool is rationalization. Rationalization is when I find all sorts of reasons and excuses for why I should do something. The ends justify the means, we tell ourselves. This person deserved it anyway, they had it coming to them, or they won’t care are among the many reasons we find. This is ‘distorting the words of the righteous.’

Each of us, throughout our day, and throughout our lives, have many judgements to make, we are constantly making decisions, and often confronted with moral dilemmas. We often have pre-conceived ideas about what we want the ends to be, and so the Torah warns us to be careful and to try to be cognizant of our agendas. How do we do this? By not avoiding the hard questions, and by asking ourselves if we are justifying our actions for my own ends? The Torah cautions us to look at how we can distort our own judgement, and entreats us to look at life objectively to try to do the right thing in our lives.

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