דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום.
“His ways are pleasant ways and all His paths are peaceful” (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:18). With this verse The Rabbeinu Bachye starts his introduction to this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim. He begins by recounting how King Shlomo, the author of Mishlei, is informing us through this piece that both the foundation and the main body of the Torah is peace, and even the main purpose of the creation of the world is peace. The Rabbeinu Bachye goes on for a very long time proving and enumerating, in great depth, how important peace truly is to Hashem. He concludes his introduction to the Torah portion by saying that just as peace keeps the world in existence, so too law and order (or justice) is what keeps the peace. Without law and order people would steal, connive, and kill each other, and the world would not last; through laws and order the world is able to exist. This is evident from a Mishna in Pirkei Avos 1:18: “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, ‘The world endures on three things: Justice, truth, and peace,’ as it is said: ‘Truth and the verdict of peace are you to adjudicate in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16). Since judges keep the peace upon which the entire world is dependent, the Torah therefore commands us to establish courts at each of our gates.
This is the intention of the first verse of the Torah Portion which says: “Judges and police, you shall give all your gates that Hashem your G-D gives to you for each of your tribes and they will judge for the nation righteous judgement” (Devarim 16:18). The Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to discuss the juxtaposition between the end of last week’s Torah portion, which deal with the yom tovim of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos, with the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, which deals with judges. He says that even though the Jews all come together three times a year in Yerushalayim, where they could ask their questions of Torah and mitzvah observance to Kohanim,Leviim, and other Torah teachers, it was still commanded as a mitzvah to appoint judges in each and every city.
The Rabbeinu Bachye then defines what a judge is and what police are. Judges are the sages who know religion and laws, and who give over judgements. Policemen enforce the law. They walk around the city with batons and whips, making sure no wrongdoing goes unpunished, and balancing weights and measurements in people’s businesses which need fixing. All this is done under the guidance of the judges. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
One can ask that if not for the first reason to establish courts in every city why would there be a need to establish courts everywhere? Granted, one could find all the Torah scholars together only three times a year, but torah scholars did not only live in Yerushalayim! They were spread out all over the country, living in their own home, running their own yeshivas or shuls, just learning by themselves, open and ready for anyone to go over and ask them a question. The Kohanim and Leviim were known to be the main teachers of Torah, and even though Hashem did not give them their own territory in Israel they were spread out in 48 Levitical Cities, throughout the Land of Israel. If that was the case, why would the courts need to be there for people to ask judges questions? Why couldn’t they go to their “Local Orthodox Rabbi,” posek, or Torah sage living nearby, without the necessity of an official court!?
Furthermore, once the Torah edict was in place for courts in order to keep the peace,why did the Torah go out of its way to emphasize another reason for the courts, which was to answer questions of the populace? Is not the first reason good enough to establish them everywhere!?
It would seem from here that the courts were sort of like a clinic specializing in answering questions on Jewish Law, and the Torah went out of its way to set them up and to advertise them, to ensure that people would ask questions in a timely fashion when issues arise, and not push off the question until the gathering in Jerusalem, which only happened three times a year. If the courts would not have been set up and advertised for this very purpose, then people would not have had the same motivation to ask the questions in an appropriate and timely manner even if there were rabbis and learned sages available to ask.
We can learn a lesson from this, that outside motivation should be implemented in order to guarantee that things are being run correctly. Having special clinics and official specialists that are set up to deal with a specific problem, and advertising it, helps to resolve the issue. In this case, setting up courts in all the provinces and cities to not only regulate the law and deal with court cases which will keep the peace but to specifically be there to answer Torah questions and how to properly observe mitzvos, as well as advertising that that is what the courts are there for, will motivate people to ask the rabbi the questions they have and to seek out proper Daas Torah on a regular basis.
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder