SALT - Tuesday, 16 Shevat 5776 - January 26, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read in Parashat Yitro of how Yitro, Moshe’ father-in-law, observed Moshe sitting “from morning until evening” single-handedly tending to the nation’s legal cases (18:13).  Yitro thereupon advised Moshe to appoint a network of judges to serve under him so he would not have to bear this burden alone, and Moshe heeded his advice.

            The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (10a), as Rashi cites, raised the question of how it is possible that Moshe sat and judged the people “from morning until evening.”  When, the Gemara asks, would Moshe have devoted himself to his own studies if he spent the entire day serving as judge?  To answer this question, the Gemara resorts to an allegorical reading of the verse, interpreting it to mean that a judge who renders proper, honest rulings becomes the Almighty’s “partner” in creation, which began with the creation of day and night.

            Why is a fair judge considered God’s “partner in creation,” and why is this message conveyed through the metaphor of “morning until evening”?

            One of the important aspects of creation is the harmony maintained between conflicting forces, which is best symbolized by the division of day and night.  Creation consists of light and darkness, heat and cold, fire and water, and countless other pairs of conflicting entities.  God, in His infinite wisdom, created and sustains the world by perfectly balancing these opposing forces.  It is in this sense, perhaps, that a judge becomes God’s “partner” in creation.  His job, essentially, is to bring peace between “morning” and “evening,” between two individuals whose interests clash.  A judge is called upon to follow his Creator’s example, to find a way to allow quarreling litigants to coexist peacefully, just as God found a way for light and darkness to coexist in the world.

            Significantly, Chazal make this comment specifically in reference to Moshe judging the people, and according to one view, this occurred after Moshe had returned from spending forty days and nights atop Mount Sinai.  We might have thought that Moshe had already established a close “partnership” with the Almighty by bringing His Torah to Am Yisrael, by living as an angelic being in the heavens receiving the divine law.  And yet, the Gemara speaks of Moshe’s “partnering” with God specifically in the context of his role as judge, presiding over the people’s cases, hearing their complaints – some of which were likely petty and trivial – and issuing his verdicts.  We become God’s partners primarily by performing the work of “morning and evening,” working to maintain peace and harmony among people.  While we of course bear numerous other obligations, it is by bringing peace among people that we attain the special status as partners of the Almighty in creating and sustaining the world.