Chapter 1: Mishna 9: Part 1
Shimon ben Shatach says: Cross-examine witnesses
extensively; and be cautious with your words, lest the
witnesses learn from them to lie (they understand from the
question what the answer is supposed to be).
This pair of Tanaim has focused on ensuring that judicial
decisions are not corrupted, something which is fundamental to
"mishpat," the legal system. After teaching that the judge must not
favor one side over the other by helping one present a more effective
case, we now learn how he is to relate to the witnesses.
The need for substantial cross-examination is due to the fact that
a witness frequently embellishes his testimony, where changing even a
word or two can modify its entire meaning and significance, reducing it
to complete falsehood. Additionally, he can figure out from the
questions of the judge what he needs to say in order to have his
testimony accepted, further compounding already false testimony.
Against these two potential corruptions of "mishpat," accurate
judgment, Shimon ben Shatach taught his mussar.
(A note on education: one of the problems of our school system is
that students are focused on getting "right answers" as opposed to really
understanding something. Therefore, they become attuned to reading from
a teacher's question what answer he or she wants to hear. So a "right"
answer may result, but with no understanding of why the opposite answer
couldn't have been just as "right." If a question is asked in order to
"judge" (as well as facilitate) a student's understanding, then the
lesson of Shimon ben Shatach should be meticulously observed: Be cautious
with your words, lest they learn from them to "lie.")
"Mishpat" embodies love of G-d as well as awe and fear of Him.
"With righteousness judge your neighbor" (Vayikra 19:15) is a positive
command, which manifests love of G-d. "Do not perpetrate wrong through
judgment" (ibid) is a negative warning, manifesting fear of G-d. One
who loves G-d loves judgment, pursuing what is right. "Judgment
belongs to G-d" (Devarim 1:17), and through pursuit of what is right,
one attaches to G-d. G-d also detests corruption and falsehood (see
Psalms 119:163), and it is an abomination in His eyes. Therefore, one
who fears G-d, takes special care against any deviation from true
judgment. The teachings of this pair of Tanaim is a branch of both
love and fear of G-d.
There seems to be an inconsistency between this pair of Mishnayoth
and the principle expounded earlier that the Nasi taught the positive
mussar, emanating from love of G-d, followed by the Av Beth Din who
taught the need to take care against the negative, emanating from fear
of G-d. Yehuda ben Tabai seems to have first taught what NOT to do,
while Shimon ben Shatach follows by teaching the positive, what one is
supposed to do. In fact, there is a disagreement in the Gemara
(Chagiga, 16b) whether Yehdua ben Tabai was the Av Beth Din and Shimon
be Shatach was the Nasi (the opinion of Chachamim) or vice versa (Tana
Kama). It would then appear that this Mishna is following the opinion
of Chachamim. An alternative could be that despite the negative
language of Yehuda ben Tabai, his teaching is directed towards ensuring
the integrity and truth of judgment, something which is compromised by
"lawyering." And despite Shimon ben Shatach's positive language, his
message is that judges have to stay far from any possibility of
corruption and falsehood in the judgment.
The development of the chapter until now is as follows. Antignos
Ish Socho taught about self perfection, the proper way man is supposed
to serve. This is followed by the perfection of ones home and his
relationship to those in his home. Then comes the perfection of those
close to him, but outside his home: A Rav, a friend, and others. These
Mishnayoth taught how one is to behave with and relate to those who are
greater than him (wise people, a Rav, etc.) or equal to him (spouse,
friend, etc.) Then the mussar is directed to those who themselves are
in positions of authority OVER others, beginning with a person who is
responsible to render judgment of others. The next pair of Tanaim will
discuss the proper behavior for people in leadership roles. There is
less of a connection between people who are in positions of power and
authority with those over who they exert judgement and control,
compared to the connection between student/Rabbi, friends, members of a
household, etc. The latter relationships are intimate connections,
while the former ones are more tenuous. But there is still a
connection, and the Tanaim are teaching how that connection is supposed
to exist in the most perfect way. We have just learned how a judge
should behave in relation to those who are judged by him, his purstuit
of truth being motivated by both love and awe. Next will come mussar
on how a person in a position of power and leadership is supposed to
perfect himself and relate to his "constituents."
The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky,
Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat
Darche Noam/Shapell's and Midreshet Rachel for Women.