do you know me?

Friday, 18 August, 2023 - 6:04 am

What happens when a court decides unanimously that the defendant is guilty, that he indeed committed a murder?

According to the accepted practice worldwide, he receives the full punishment. But, surprisingly enough, according to Torah law, he is exempt from any punishment! As the Rambam wrote in Hilchot Sanhedrin: “A Sanhedrin (high court of law)  … and all all of them said he is guilty, then he is let off.” This ruling is based on what it says in Masechet Sanhedrin: “A Sanhedrin who was unanimous in its indictment, [the defendant] is let off.”

Why? What’s the logic in this?

On Parashat Ki Tisa, 5745, the Rebbe explained this in a deep and long discussion, involving delving into the murderer’s soul, finding the good in it, and learning an amazing instruction for each and every one of us.

This is what the Rebbe said: “From this we can understand that each and every Jew, whoever he is – even if he is in the lowest state – as for his internal and true existence, he is good. And therefore, it is certain that no matter what the situation is one can find some redeeming feature.

“That being so, if the court was unanimous about his being guilty, in other words, there was no one at all who could view him favorably, it must be that they didn’t really see him – didn’t see his inner essence – since he for sure has some good in him. That being so, that court cannot indict him since they don’t really know him and he is exempt from punishment.”

My friends, if that is so regarding a murderer, it certainly should be our attitude towards each and every Jew, especially when it comes to our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We must not only search for the good in every person, but mainly approach them taking into account that we are not seeing everything, because every person has some good in him or her, even if it is hidden.  So much so, that even the Sanhedrin, who were granted the authority to judge capital-punishment crimes, cannot produce a verdict if they haven’t found the hidden good in the defendant.

“And from this we learn a teaching concerning disseminating Torah and Judaism,” the Rebbe summed up. “When you meet a Jew in the street who seems to have no redeeming features, you should know that this is just his external aspect, but in his internal aspect and his essence – he is a Jew! And if one sees only that he “sinned”, and does not see that ‘he is a Jew’ – that is proof that one is not seeing his true reality, and so, one’s judgment of this ‘sinning’ person is no judgment at all!”

This week we have entered the month of Elul, the month of mercy and Selichot. This Shabbat we will be reading Parashat Shoftim. Now is the time to look into these matters and judge other people, and ourselves as well, according to the Lubavitcher’s Rebbe approach – to understand that there is good in all of us, and if you don’t see it, then you are not in apposition to judge him or her.

So simple? Yes!


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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