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Parshas Shelach 5759

Outline Vol. 3, # 25

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Last week, we discussed the controversy between the Rabbis and Rabbi Eliezer. The Rabbis ignored the miraculous phenomena that seemed to justify Rabbi Eliezer's point of view. Laws of the Torah cannot be augmented, reduced, or in any way determined by prophetic means.

The fact that someone disputes the court's decision, does not affect the outcome, even if he demonstrates supernatural powers. What happens if, in fact, leaders are shown to be in error?

Leaders' Mistakes: Kohein, Beis Din, Nasi

In the fourth chapter of Vayikra, atonement procedures are given for various leaders: The Kohein, the Sanhedrin, and the King, who mistakenly lead their subordinates in an erroneous path. The great Jewish Leaders are regarded as pure and holy human beings; as humans, they, too, make mistakes, and can make amends.

However, this is regards leaders who err in following the Torah. We can imagine a situation in which the judges follow the Torah precisely, and still make an apparent error -- because their information is incomplete.

Beis Din that Follows Torah but Case is Reversed

According to the Torah, court cases normally require two witnesses. The likelihood that two witnesses, who are interrogated independently, are lying, is minimal. The existence of two concurring witnesses establishes a "chazakah" -- an assumption -- of truth. Of course, it is possible that the witnesses are indeed dishonest, but the indication is that they are truthful.

Conflicting testimony destroys an assumption of validity; all conflicting testimony is rejected. There is, however, one exception. A second group of witnesses, who remove the original group from the scene of the crime altogether, are believed to negate the first group. The invalidated witnesses are called "Eidim Zommemim" -- "plotting witnesses."

If a defendant is convicted on the basis of witnesses, but the case is reversed according to the proper formula -- the original witnesses receive the punishment intended for the defendant. For example: if a defendant is convicted of the death penalty, but the case is reversed, the original, plotting witnesses, receive the death penalty instead.

The Riddle

Here comes the difficulty -- the reversal of the punishment only takes place before any punishment is carried out. For example, if the defendant was already convicted and executed before the witnesses were shown to be false, the witnesses cannot be punished...

The Talmud points out the irony of these rulings: Without having caused a wrongful death, witnesses can be executed; yet, if they indeed caused a wrongful death -- they cannot be punished!

Next issue: Explanations of The Riddle and The Non-Jewish Court

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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