Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
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by Efraim Levine

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They would judge the people at all times; the difficult thing they would bring to Moshe and the minor thing they themselves would judge. (Shemos 18:26)

In this week’s parsha we learn how Yisro approached Moshe and advised him to establish a judicial hierarchy. He suggested that only major matters be brought to Moshe for judgment and all minor matters be judged by the lower courts (Shemos 18:22). The commentators note that when Moshe implemented Yisro’s advice, the posuk records that difficult matters were bought to Moshe. Why did the Torah record Yisro’s advice with the word major and Moshe’s implementation with the word difficult.

The commentators answer that Yisro came from a secular background and at that time he did not yet have a true appreciation of the high standards of the Torah. Yisro believed that only when a dispute involved a significant amount of money should Moshe be consulted. If the dispute involved an insignificant amount of money, it was not necessary to consult Moshe for his expert advice. Even if a judge were to make a mistake in law it would not have major ramifications.

Moshe disagreed. When he implemented Yisro’s advice it was with a variation. Moshe taught Yisro and the Jewish people that according to Torah law it is not important how much money is involved. What is important is the truth. Even an insignificant amount of money whose law was complex is deserving of expert advice. This idea explains the discrepancy between Yisro’s words and that of Moshe’s. Yisro advised that a major matter be brought to Moshe. The word major has the connotation of a significant sum of money. Moshe corrected him by instructing the judges to bring to him only a matter that is difficult. The word difficult has the connotation of difficulty in law. The truth is important not money.

We may note that this interpretation only explains the discrepancy in the first part of the two posukim. What about the conclusion of both posukim? Both Yisro’s advice and Moshe’s implementation conclude with the same words “and the minor thing they themselves would judge.” The word minor fits well in Yisro advice, for minor is the correct parallel to major. However, the word minor does not parallel difficult. With regard to Moshe’s implementation it would seem that the posuk should have concluded “a simple or light matter they themselves would judge?”

We may suggest that the Torah is teaching an important principle in judicial proceedings and Torah study in general. There is no such thing as a simple matter. Every law no matter how simple it may seem has great depth and profundity. Indeed, Chazal teach us that one of the prerequisites for the appointment of a new judge is his ability to show how something that the Torah forbids can be logically proven to be permitted. Something is permitted or forbidden only because the Torah decreed so. In essence a new judge must prove that he has an appreciation of the fact that nothing in Jewish law is simple.

In Jewish law there are laws that are complex and super complex. The Torah tells us that matters that were complex were judged by the lower courts. The matters that were super complex were brought to Moshe for his expert counsel. The posuk could not have said that matters that were easy or light were brought to Moshe. There are no such things as easy and light matters. In the context of the posuk the word minor may be interpreted as minor in complexity relative to the super complex laws that were brought to Moshe.


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