q What's Bothering Rashi

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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashios Achrei Mos/Kedoshim(66)

These two sedras are packed with many interesting laws. In Achrei Mos we learn the laws of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple and the laws of prohibited sexual relations. In Kedoshim we have a blend of strictly "religious" (Between Man & G-d) and civil laws.

We will look at a verse, which shows the beauty and uniqueness of Torah judicial law.

Leviticus 19: 15

You shall not do wrong in justice; you shall not favor a poor man and you shall not honor a rich man , with righteousness you shall judge your fellow.


You shall not favor a poor man: Rashi: You should not say: He is a poor man, and the rich man is obligated to support him, I (the judge) will acquit him (the poor man) in court and thus he will have income in an acceptable way. (not having to beg for it).

And you shall not honor a rich man: Rashi: You should not say: This is a rich man, the son of great people, how can I (the judge) embarrass him (by ruling against him) and see his embarrassment, there is a punishment for such things (for embarrassing someone), therefore it says [explicitly] 'you shall not honor a rich man.'


Rashi gives the rational behind the need for telling judges to stay within the bounds of justice and not let other (reasonable) considerations pervert their just decision. Rashi spells out the rationalizations of the "good hearted" judge.


A question: In the first case, one could understand that since the rich man is, in fact, obligated to give charity, the judge might be justified in "perverting" the judgment so that the poor mans wins the case and the rich man fulfills his mitzvah of charity in this way. But in the second case why should the poor man loose, just so the rich man is not embarrassed? That seems quite unjustified.

A good question. To get a better idea, see Rashi on Devarim 1:17.

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi in Devarim 1:17 says the following: "you shall not say: 'How can I hurt the honor of this rich man for a (measly) dinar? I will decide in his favor now (in court) and when we go out of court, I'll tell him (the rich man) you really owe him the money so pay him now.'

So we see by Rashi's addition here, that justice will be done in the end. Only in the courtroom, for appearance's sake, does the judge think to rule in favor of the rich man to save his honor, even though he is not the just party.

On these the above rationalizations, what can you ask?

Your Question(s):


Some Questions: What is so wrong with the judge's rationalizations? The rich man does have to give charity, why not to this poor man?

And, in the second case, what is so wrong with judging in favor of the rich man to save his honor, when in the end the poor man will get what is coming to him?

Your Answer(s):


An Answer: Every Jew is commanded to give charity and help the needy. But each can person decide for himself to whom he will give his charity. The Torah does not decide for him. It is his choice and his privilege. So the judge has no right to mandate who should be the recipient of this man's charity In fact the judge, himself, is no less obligated to give charity than the disputant. If the judge thought this poor man who stands before him in court was in need of financial help, the judge has no less a mitzvah of giving him tzadakah than the disputant. This should be contrasted to some modern socialistically inclined courts. Liberal judges may feel they have the right to impose their judgment on who is and who is not deserving of the citizens' charity.

The Torah's view in the second case is also enlightening. The Torah is telling us that the rich man's honor is no more sacred than the poor man's honor. If the poor man was to be proclaimed guilty in court, when in fact he is not guilty, this would be an insult to the poor man's honor - even if he eventually receives his money after the court is dismissed. The Torah is concerned about everyone's honor regardless of his social standing. All are equal in the courtroom. Another example of this equality is regarding the issue of standing and sitting in court. Although the disputants are supposed to stand in front of the judge, if a person is weak or aged and needs to sit during the proceedings, he can sit. But then his opponent, even though quite healthy and strong, also sits. We can't have one sitting and one standing.

The Torah Lesson : Justice is not measured in financial terms only, human feelings are also important. The Torah's justice takes them into account.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.

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