In our parsha, D’varim, we have some principals
for a judicial system and at the risk of venturing outside of my
territory before an audience full of lawyers I will point out a few
In D’varim 1: 17 we read, "Lo takeeroo ponim
b’mishpat k’katan k’gadol teshmeoon lo togooroo
mpnei eesh," or "You are not to (specially) recognize a face in
judgment: As the small as the great you are to hear them out. You
are not to be in fear of any man."
The commentators find much material in the phrase
"k’katan u k’gadol."
Rashi takes it to mean that there is no small claims
court in the Jewish system: "din proota k’din mona." He also
brings a view that may not be what we always would think of
immediately but are certainly not unfamiliar with: Beware the
frivolous lawsuit in which the poor person is conniving to get
money from the deep pocket.
Saadia Gaon, on the other hand, brings the inverted
view: The court shouldn’t be intimidated when a well known
man of high standing comes before it.
Nechama Leibovitz brought another view from the
Mechilta: "Katan" refers to a person with a bad reputation -- in
our parlance, someone with "priors." The court must be careful to
judge the current case on its merits.
The more interesting interpretations to me are those
that extend beyond the courtroom and into how we regard people in
our daily lives. Our categories of who is "katan" and who is
"gadol" are too often determined by externalities . A Chassidic
commentator teaches the "katan" and "gadol" are only in the eyes of
basar v’dam. When we see katan and gadol we are only looking
at external appearances, but this is an illusion because man is
only able to estimate and imagine.
A recent New York Times article caught my eye. It was
a lengthy article complete with pictures entitled "Important ? If
you are, torah study can visit." The article was about a program
where rabbis come to study one on one with people at their place of
business. A wonderful idea, but the article’s title raised a
yellow light in my head which was verified a few paragraphs later.
It’s too rich not to quote verbatim:
"Rabbi Shiff is one of five rabbis employed by an
international Orthodox Jewish organization known as Aish HaTorah,
which offers many services to regular people at its Upper West Side
center, but offers some special attention to those whom its
managing director, Rabbi Adam Jacobs, refers to as ‘very
significant people.’ To participate in its Executive Learning
Program, one makes a very significant contribution — $10,000
a year, more or less — and in return, a rabbi comes to
one’s corner office about once a week to offer Bible study,
Talmudic exegesis, personal counseling or just an hour of
To say the least, this struck me as quite a
juxtaposition of torah values with the values of the marketplace,
and I don’t think I am alone.
I think it’s appropriate that on this erev
Tisha B’Av, I close with this little piece of torah from a
"Lo taceero ponim k’mishpat……" To
what does the pasuk refer? "You are not to (specially )," refers to
elevating the katan (those that don’t merit being elevated),
meaning that you confuse the katan with the gadol (gadol here
meaning gadol in values or in wisdom) and you relate to the small
one as if he is a gadol. The teaching cites Masechet Shabbat, which
says that "Jerusalem was not destroyed until the katan was valued
the same as the gadol."
So I think the lesson here takes us way outside the
courtroom. We should be wary about which values we use as criteria
for "katan" and "gadol" in our personal relationships, in our
immediate community and in our society where the most exalted often
seem to be famous for nothing other than being famous.