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Weekly Chizuk

Parashas Yisro

Detest Dishonesty

But you shall choose out of the entire nation men of substance, God fearers, men of truth, who hate greed, and you shall appoint over them [Israel] leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens.." (Shemos 18:21)

In the search for leadership for the Jews in the desert, Yisro advises Moshe to find people of strength and character who "hate greed" meaning, they abhor corruption.

You will notice that Yisro did not instruct Moshe to find people who themselves were not just corrupt. He demanded instead that Moshe somehow find people who hated corruption. The standard demanded from public officials is hatred - complete intolerance - of corruption.

The Torah subsequently testifies that, "Moshe obeyed his father in law, and he did all that he said. Moshe chose men of strength out of all Yisroel and appointed them as heads of the people ." What stands out is that the other qualities - God fearers, men of truth, who hate corruption - are missing. It seems that in Moshe's generation those people were hard to find. And apparently, the search for them has not become more fruitful or easier over the centuries.

Moshe was unable to find people who met the standards set by Yisro. He settled therefore for people of strong moral character. Perhaps as long as Moshe is the leader of Israel, his presence guarantees that the official society of Israel a corruption-free environment. But Moshe is not always and therefore the necessity to continually search for haters of corruption is always relevant and present.

Later on in the Torah the possuk relates Moshe's command to the dayanim: "You shall not favor persons in judgment; [rather] you shall hear the small just as the great; you shall not fear any man, for the judgment is upon the Lord, and the case that is too difficult for you, bring to me, and I will hear it." (Devorim 1:17) Dayanim and all public officials must be of such a caliber of fear of Heaven that they will not bend to any unethical influence.

The Alter of Novardok in Madreigos Ha-Adam recounts a very pertinent incident which relates to the above-mentioned point:

The Jewish community of Hamburg needed a new Rav. The selection committee searched long and hard, and finally found a relatively young talmid chacham who was suitable for the position. The day he arrived to take up his appointment, a woman approached him and urgently requested that he adjudicate a din Torah between her and a certain wealthy businessman who was one of the more prominent residents of the city. Exhausted from his long journey and occupied with getting settled in his new home, the young Rav asked if the case could be put off for a day or two until he rested up. However, the woman was adamant, and gave several reasons why it was impossible to put things off.

"Very well," sighed the young Rav. He called in the shamash and told him, "Please inform so-and-so that he has been summoned to appear before the Rav for a din Torah with this woman." Upon hearing that he had to confront the wealthy, powerful man with such a demand, the shamash became rooted to the spot in fear. He thought to himself anxiously, "How can I have the audacity to deliver this message to such a prominent and honored individual, summoning him immediately to a din Torah with no forewarning whatsoever?" However, the Rav was persistent in his demand, and the shamash reluctantly departed on his mission, trembling and weak-kneed.

When he arrived at the man's house, he was so overcome with fright that he couldn't bring himself to knock on the door. He paced back and forth in front of the house, hoping that the owner would come out on his own. Heaven pitied him, and that is exactly what happened. The master of the house stepped out of his door, saw the shamash standing in the yard, and asked him to explain his presence there. After much hemming and hawing, the shamash managed to stutter out the Rav's message. The rich man's reaction was not long in coming: "You can tell the Rav that I'll come when I get a chance!"

The shamash returned to the Rav and informed him of the man's response to the summons. The Rav asked the woman once again if she would agree to postpone the proceedings, but she would not consent to this. He then instructed the shamash, "Go tell him that the woman does not consent to a delay, and therefore I demand that he present himself immediately."

When the shamash heard that he had to confront the rich man a second time, he lost his composure completely. He knew very well that the rich and powerful simply don't stand for such demands - and this was true especially in this case, where a respected member of the community is degraded by being summoned to a din Torah like some commoner in the street! However, left with no alternative, the unfortunate shamash returned to the mansion. Just like the first time, he was at a loss for words, until the master of the house impatiently asked him, "Well, what did the Rav say?" The shamash replied in a subdued mumble, "The woman does not consent to a postponement, and your honor is bidden to appear at the Rav's house without delay." The wealthy man was filled with rage at the Rav, and he arrogantly told the shamash, "Go tell that young whippersnapper that I'm one of the wealthiest men in Hamburg and he's still a guest who doesn't know how things work around here. I am a man of my word, and if I say that I will come when I'm able to, I mean it!"

The shamash went back to the Rav and reported the rich man's reply. Now it was the Rav's turn to be angry. He rose to his full height and told the shamash, "Go straight back and inform him that he could be the richest man in the world for all I care! I have ordered him to come today, and he is obligated to come today. I may not have any police under my command to bring him by force, but I still have other methods at my disposal. Tell him that if he refuses my summons one more time, I will proclaim a cheirem (communal ban) against him!" The shamash shuddered with dread upon hearing these harsh words, and he pleaded with the Rav to send someone else. The Rav, however, was in no mood for nonsense, and he insisted that his assistant should go himself - and quickly!

The shamash saw that he had no choice in the matter. Fortifying himself with what little courage he had left, he set out for the magnate's house for the third time. With great difficulty, the rich man managed to extract the Rav's message from the hapless attendant, whose head was lowered in embarrassment and fright. His task complete, the pitiful shamash fled from the rich man's house even before receiving an answer.

Shortly after the shamash returned, the rich man appeared at the Rav's house. He extended his hand to the Rav and joyfully exclaimed, "Mazal tov, mazal tov! You are truly worthy to be the Rav of our city. Please allow me to explain what's been going on. In truth, I am not a defendant and the woman is not a plaintiff. It was all a test. You see, the communal leaders were quite concerned about hiring such a young Rav. They were afraid that you might not be able to stand up to the wealthy and tough businessmen we have here. Therefore, I proposed that we test your mettle by presenting you with a difficult situation on your very first day here - a mock din Torah. Now we see that the Rav isn't shaken in the face of any difficulties or unpleasantness, and that you perform your duties courageously, as the Torah dictates - and therefore you are truly worthy of being our Rav!"

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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