Yesterday, we noted that one of the qualities that Yitro deemed necessary for a judge was “yerei Elokim” – fear of God” (18:21).
Malbim discusses the particular importance of yir’at Shamayim in the
context of judgment. Yitro also noted other qualities which are necessary for a judge – such as honesty (“anshei emet”) and disinterest in wealth (“son’ei batza”) – but he also found it necessary to add “yir’ei Elokim.” Malbim suggested that without yir’at Shamayim, even if a judge is scrupulously honest and beyond suspicion of bribery, he might be lax when it comes to relatively minor cases. If the amount of money under question is small, and the consequences of the trial are not all that significant, the judge might not invest the time and mental energy needed to thoroughly study the case and issue the correct ruling. If, however, the judge is infused with genuine yir’at Shamayim, then he understands and senses that he works for the Almighty, who demands the highest standards under all circumstances. A judge with yir’at Shamayim sees not only the litigants standing before him, but also God, who is likewise present at every trial (“Elokim nitzav ba-adat Kel” – 82:1), and who draws no distinctions between large and small sums of money. With this awareness, a judge tends to all cases with proper attention and focus, regardless of the sums at stake.
The message conveyed by this comment of Malbim applies not only to judges, but to all of us and all areas of religious life. Without yir’at Shamayim, we are prone to disregarding the seemingly trivial matters, the minute details of Halakha to which we are bound. If we view religious observance only through our human lenses, we will allow ourselves the freedom to focus on what appears to us as important, and neglect the nitty-gritty details. With yir’at Shamayim, however, we realize that it has all been commanded to us by the Almighty, that both the “big” and “small” requirements and restrictions are part of the divine code by which we are to live. And while certainly some laws will take priority over others when conflicts arise, fundamentally, we are equally committed to them all. Just as a judge bears the responsibility to carefully evaluate and examine even the small cases that come before him, we, too, must give our full attention to even the seemingly “trivial” areas of halakhic observance, with the realization that they, too, constitute part of our obligation to the Almighty.