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Be Patient to Render Judgment

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (1,1) states: “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshua. Yehoshua then passed it on to the Elders who passed it on to the Prophets who passed it on to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be patient to render judgment, establish many students, and make a fence around the Torah.” Regarding the teaching of “being patient to render judgment,” the Gemara (Sanhedrin 7b) derives this from the juxtaposition of two verses. The first verse states, “And you shall not ascend my altar with stairs” (Rashi explains this to mean that stairs cause one to ascend speedily and harshly) and the next verse states, “And these are the laws that you shall place before them.” We see from here that one should not judge swiftly. This means that if a certain case comes before a rabbinical judge, he should take care not to rule strictly according to the laws of the Torah; rather, one must delve deeply into the matter and save the oppressed from the oppressor. An unbelievable incident once occurred to Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss, head of the rabbinical court of the Eidah Ha’Charedit of Jerusalem. Once, two people came before him for a halachic litigation. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant owed him a large sum of money amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. The defendant completely denied the allegation and claimed that there was never any loan. Harav Weiss turned to the plaintiff and asked him, “Do you have any proof to substantiate your claim that the defendant owes you money?” The plaintiff immediately took a contract out of his pocket and on it was written clearly that the defendant owed the plaintiff this amount of money with the defendant’s signature on the bottom of the page. The rabbi called over the defendant and asked him if this was indeed his signature. The defendant answered in the affirmative but still denied that there was ever a loan and claimed that he never remembered signing such a contract. Now, based on the letter of the law, the rabbi should have immediately obligated the defendant to pay the entire sum of the loan, for the plaintiff is holding a contract and the defendant admitted that the signature on it was his. However, the great rabbi was able to sense that the plaintiff was an evil and shrewd man, and it was noticeable that the defendant was speaking the truth. The rabbi was therefore in a bind because in the current situation, it was difficult to find a way to exonerate the defendant and on the other hand, he did not wish to obligate him to pay either. However, even the defendant did not have a good explanation for how his complex signature had ended up on the document in the plaintiff’s possession.

The rabbi, therefore, requested that the official ruling be postponed until the following morning. He hoped that until then, Hashem would give him the wisdom to judge correctly. The next morning, while both litigants were waiting for the rabbinical court to convene, an emissary of Hagaon Harav Weiss arrived and requested that the defendant go home immediately and bring one of his books to the court. The defendant heard the strange request but did not hesitate; he went home, grabbed a book, and came back to the Bet Din. When the litigants entered the Bet Din, Hagaon Harav Weiss asked the defendant to show him the book he was holding. The defendant handed the book to the rabbi, and he realized that the defendant would sign his name on the first blank page of the book, not on the top like most people do, but on the bottom. The rabbi then asked the defendant if he had ever lent a book to the plaintiff. He thought for a moment and then replied that he had and had not yet received the book back yet from him. The rabbi then told his emissary to accompany the plaintiff home so that he may bring back the book he borrowed from the defendant. When they returned to the Bet Din, they realized that, lo and behold, the first blank page of the book was cut out and the “document” the plaintiff presented was actually that very page with the handwritten contents of the despicable plaintiff. This is indeed the wisdom of a true genius and righteous man who is not quick to render judgment and merits ruling correctly and justly. One should learn from him regarding any profoundly important decisions one must make in one’s home or throughout one’s life that one should not be too hasty to decide or act. Rather, one should organize his thoughts and deeds wisely, through patience and moderation, in hopes that the decision one will make thereafter will be the more correct one. Halacha Yomit: When writing or signing one’s name on a piece of paper, one must make sure to do so at the top of the page and not on the bottom, so that an evil individual does not have the chance to write things on top of one’s signature, such as “I owe so-and-so money” in which case, one’s signature, which one had written flippantly, will then apply to whatever was written above it (Baba Batra 167a).


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