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The previous parasha concludes with details of the observance of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Immediately afterwards, this week's parasha opens with:
You shall set up judges and officers at all your city gates… and dispense justice correctly (16:18).
The Orach Haim suggests a reason for the connection between the three-times-a-year festive visit to Jerusalem and the establishment of local courts. It is that one should not rely on the highest level of judicial service provide by the Sanhedrin within reach in the Holy City, but legal service should be locally available as well.
This may be explained using the following principle. The Talmud (Ketuvot 2a ff.) rules that a virgin should be married on the day of the week that is before the Beth Din go into session. (It was the practice then for the Beth Din to be in session on Mondays and Thursdays only.) So if the groom discovered on the wedding night that his bride was not the virgin he believed her to be, he would bring the matter of deception before the local Beth Din on the very following morning. A longer time lapse might find the groom calming down over his disappointment. He could well be talked-in to not rocking the boat, deciding to put it behind him, and just carry on with life.
That may not be a good thing in the longer run. There is a difference between forgiving, and forgetting. The fact that the husband has been persuaded to drop the charges does not mean that he sees his wife as being the virgin she claimed to be. It will be something unpleasantly niggling at the back of his mind throughout the marriage. Ultimately it will explode in other directions, very possibly to the detriment of the children and other innocent third parties. Thus the Talmud rules that weddings should be scheduled on days with most immediate access to the court. This matter must be attended to immediately.
This principle may be widened to include all types of disputes between people. For example, a person may have bought what he claims to have been an item of poorer quality than expected. The shopkeeper refuses to upgrade to the quality demanded for the same price. If small-claims judicial services are not readily available, he may decide just to give up and retaliate by bad-mouthing and thus undermining the reputation of the business. But if those facilities are accessible, he should follow through. On review, it may be a mutual misunderstanding over quality between buyer and seller. It might be that the seller did deceive the buyer. Or the buyer tried to take in the seller. Whatever.
That can explain the Torah's insistence on the establishment of local courts of law - at the gates of the city for easy access. Disputes between parties occur, and it is vital that they are resolved once and for all. There should be no festering of any noxious dirt under the carpet.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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