> Weekly Torah Portion > Beginner > Rabbi Avraham Twerski's Insights on the Torah

Dissent is Healthy

Masay (Numbers 33-36 )


In narrating the laws of the unintentional killer, the Torah says,
the assembly shall judge and the assembly shall rescue the (unintentional) killer from the hands of the avenger of blood (Deut. 35:24-25).

From the phrase “the assembly shall rescue,” the Talmud derives the law that the court should make every attempt to avoid imposing a death sentence. One Jewish law is remarkable: If the court (of 23 judges) renders a unanimous verdict of guilty, the case is dismissed (Sanhedrin 17a).

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger explains that there is an ongoing battle between truth and falsehood. Wherever there is truth, there will arise an opposition of falsehood. Therefore, if the majority of the judges find the defendant guilty and a minority dissent, we can assume that the truth is with the majority and that the minority represent falsehood. If, however, there is a unanimous verdict of guilt, it cannot possibly be correct, for if it were a true judgement, falsehood would find some way of making an opposing statement. Therefore, there is reason to assume that a unanimous verdict of guilt is incorrect.

When there are differences of opinion, a person can consider both sides and reach a logical conclusion. Unanimity may deprive a person of critical analysis.

We should exert caution when there is a unanimity of opinion. Few things in the world are so clear cut that there is not the slightest dissent.

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