SALT - Thursday, 5 February 2015

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read in Parashat Yitro of the suggestion made by Yitro to Moshe that he appoint a network of judges so he does not have to personally tend to every case that arises.  After presenting his plan to Moshe, Yitro concludes by saying that if his advice is heeded, Moshe would not wear himself down, and peace would prevail among the people (“ve-gam kol ha-am ha-zeh al mekomo yavo be-shalom” – 18:23).


            The Netziv (in Herchev Davar) offers a characteristically novel interpretation to this verse.  He cites the Gemara’s famous comment in Masekhet Sanhedrin (6) that Moshe followed a policy of “yikov ha-din et ha-har” – adhering by the strict letter of the law without allowing room for compromise.  Despite the fact that Halakha encourages judges to seek a peaceful resolution to civil conflicts, Moshe did not follow this approach, and rather insisted on applying the strict letter of the law.  The reason, the Netziv explains, is because Moshe was a man of exceptional wisdom and intuition, and immediately upon hearing the litigants’ claims he had a clear sense of who was right.  According to the Netziv, the mitzva to find a peaceful compromise applies only in the early stages of the trial, before the judges have a strong sense of where the case is headed.  Therefore, Moshe, who had this sense already from the outset, always applied the letter of the law without seeking a compromise. 


            For this reason, the Netziv explains, Yitro concluded his advice by noting how the plan would increase peace among the nation.  The judges working under Moshe would not have his unique insight and intuition, and would therefore work to arrange a peaceful compromise before judging the case.  Hence, from Yitro’s perspective, the appointment of judges was not simply a “necessary evil” or a lowering of standards that was needed in light of Moshe’s physical limitations.  Rather, it would yield a positive net effect on the nation, resulting in more conflicts being peacefully resolved rather than ending in a ruling favoring one litigant over the other.