Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )
Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!
The beginning of Parshat Shoftim cautions the judges of the Jewish people, "Do not take a bribe (shochad)" (Deut. 16:19). The Talmud (Ketuvot 105b) asks, "What is shochad? It means SHE'HU CHAD (that he is alone)."
The commentator Gan Raveh explains this cryptic remark in light of another Talmudic passage (Shabbat 10a) that states, "Any judge who issues a true verdict is considered to be a partner with God in Creation." In other words, a judge who accepts a bribe cannot issue a true verdict, since the bribe will have swayed his perception of truth. Since his ruling will not be just, he can no longer be called God's partner in Creation. Therefore, the bribe (shochad) has led him to a state where he is alone (she'hu chad).
The Talmud (Ketuvot 105a) wonders what new idea we learn from the verse, "Do not take a bribe." If the phrase is trying to teach us not to acquit the guilty and accuse the innocent, this idea is stated explicitly elsewhere, "You shall not pervert judgment" (Deut. 16:19). Rather, the Talmud explains that a judge must not take a bribe even if it is in order to acquit the innocent and accuse the guilty. Accepting a bribe is wrong even if the verdict issued is ultimately correct!
This raises a problem. Earlier, it seemed that shochad led to the corruption of justice, which distanced the dishonest judge from God. Now it seems that shochad applies even if the judge issues a true verdict. How, then, can we say that he is considered to be chad (alone)? Ultimately, he did what was right!
In order to resolve this difficulty, we must return to the Talmudic statement we mentioned initially: "Any judge who issues a true verdict (emet l'amito) is considered to be a partner with God in Creation." The commentator Divrei Chanoch wonders why the double expression emet l'amito (literally, "truthful truth") is used here, when the single word emet (truth) would seem to suffice. Once absolute truth has been reached, what could possibly make it truer?
The Divrei Chanoch explains, based on the Beit Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 1:2), that even if the final ruling is true, a judge who accepts a bribe will still favor one party more than the other. This is a corruption, since the judge loves the party that gave him the bribe and hates the party that didn't. Although the ruling itself may be emet, the judge's emotions have been altered, so the verdict cannot be emet l'amito. "Truthful truth" refers to the internal world as well, not merely an externally correct judgment.
The Divrei Chanoch therefore explains why a judge who accepts a bribe, yet issues a true verdict, is nevertheless considered to be "alone." In order to be a partner with God in Creation, a judge must be truthful through and through. Actions alone are insufficient; his emotions must also reflect his utter commitment to justice. We can learn from here that it is not enough just to act properly. We are expected to feel the right way, as well - to align our emotions with the will of God.
According to the commentator Torat Avot, there are two levels of truth. The first level is intellectual, based on knowledge and reasoning. The second, higher level is emotional, drawn from the wisdom of the heart. This does not in any way dismiss the value of intellectual knowledge. However, it is crucial for the Torah learning that we acquire intellectually, to permeate our hearts emotionally. Torah study often changes the way we think - but we must be sure that it also changes the way we feel.
May we all merit to reach inward and live a truly truthful life, by allowing Torah to penetrate our hearts and change our feelings. In this way, may we live up to the high standards of behavior that have been set for us, so that God will judge us favorably!