SALT - Monday, 20 Shevat 5778 - February 5, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
Dedicated in memory of Sondra Schwartz (שבע שיינדל בת דוד) z"l
by her son Dr. Avi and Sara Schwartz
            The Torah commands in Parashat Mishpatim (22:27), “Elohim lo tekalel.”  The Mekhilta cites two views as to whether the word “Elohim” in this verse refers to God, such that the Torah here introduces the prohibition against blasphemy, or refers to judges, and forbids cursing a judge.  These two views also appear in the Gemara, in Masekhet Sanhedrin (66a), which concludes that according to both opinions, these two prohibitions are sourced in this verse.  Whether the Torah refers here to God or to judges, the fact that one is prohibited indicates that the other is, as well.  Indeed, Rashi, in his commentary to this verse, explains that the Torah here forbids both cursing God and cursing judges, and the Rambam cites this verse as the source of both prohibitions (cursing God – Hilkhot Avoda Zara 2:8; cursing judges – Hilkhot Sanhedrin 26:1).
            Several of the classic commentators embraced the position that on the level of peshuto shel mikra (the simple reading of the text), the Torah refers here to judges.  This is the view of Seforno, who writes, “Even if you think that the judge unfairly ruled against you, do not curse him, for a person does not see his own guilt.”  According to Seforno, the Torah here forbids an angry litigant from cursing the judge who ruled against him, even if he is convinced that the judged erred.  The reason for this law, Seforno explains, is because every litigant believes in his innocence, and his natural biases do not allow him to consider that his position is wrong.  Therefore, the Torah forbids cursing a judge out of resentment for what the litigant perceives as an incorrect ruling.
            According to Seforno’s explanation of this verse, the Torah here conveys a crucial message that extends well beyond the narrow context of litigants and judges.  It teaches that whenever we find ourselves judged critically by another person, we mustn’t rush to defend ourselves and condemn the critic.  Our natural biases make it difficult to judge ourselves with strict impartiality, and thus lead us to instinctively deflect criticism and resent those who express it.  The Torah here commands us not to “curse” our “judges” even if we feel their “judgments” are unfairly critical.  Other people’s criticism, while not always accurate, often helps to provide a more honest, more accurate assessment of ourselves, which can only help us in what should be our lifelong effort to work towards improvement and reaching greater achievements.