In Moshe’s quest to appoint individuals to assist him in adjudicating disputes and legislating the law, the Torah lists several criteria that have to be met for those to be worthy of that position.
In the portion of Devarim where this episode is reviewed, Moshe describes how he selected distinguished men, who were wise, understanding, and well known to your tribes.
In our portion it delineates the need for men of accomplishment, G-d-fearing people, men of truth, and people who despise money.
The Rambam, Maimonides, expounds on these traits explaining that ‘wise and understanding’ relates to scholarship in Torah. Being ‘well known to your tribes’ intimates their being beloved by the people.
‘Men of accomplishment’, emphasizes people who have earned sterling reputations in their fulfillment of mitzvos and development of character.
‘G-d-fearing people’, is simply just that, people whose every action is governed by a consciousness of His presence.
‘Men of truth’, people who pursue justice because of their own inclination; they love truth, hate crime, and flee from all forms of crookedness.
‘Who despise money’, people who do not become overly concerned even about their own money. They do not pursue the accumulation of money, for anyone who is overly concerned about wealth will ultimately be overcome by want. (רמב"ם סנהדרין ב ז)
The attainment of the first three qualities would seem to be necessary for practical reasons, to ensure these officials to be effective in their roles. Judges who are admired and beloved for their wisdom, character, and devotion, will ultimately be respected when issuing their judgments, with the people happily accepting their decisions.
These last three requirements, however, are the essential character traits that will assure that true and authentic justice will be served. A judge who lacks fear of G-d is liable to act according to his own will and whimsy, corrupting the truth, sowing dishonesty, creating a society that will become corrupt and eventually self-destruct the very fiber of morality.
Doesn’t it ultimately boil down simply to an honest and genuine fear of G-d?
Why is it necessary to add the need for ‘men of truth’ and the shunning of selfish interests? Isn’t that already implicit within a healthy fear of G-d? Can one who truly fears G-d, misrepresent His truth or indulge in graft?
The Rambam never emphasized commitment to truth per se, that is self-evident. What he does add is that אנשי אמת, men of truth, are people who pursue truth - מחמת עצמן מדעתן, which translates literally as: because of their own conviction and attitude. Is this implying that it is insufficient to pledge allegiance to the Torah solely because it is the word of the Living G-d who commanded us to adhere to the truth of His laws? What is this subtlety Maimonides is alluding to?
Rambam in describing the flaw of those who covet money, doesn’t punctuate the fear of his being influenced by that need in possibly accepting bribes, he simply states, מי שנבהל להון חסר יבואנו, who is overly concerned about wealth will ultimately be overcome by want. This is a sentiment based on a verse in Mishlei, He who hastens to [acquire] wealth... does not know that want will come upon him. (28 22)
It would seem that simply ‘wanting’ alone is a flaw critical to be a proper judge. Is it just because one will feel a ‘lack’ and a need for more, that he will corrupt his commitment to truth and proper judgment in abiding by the truth of the Torah?
Perhaps what is being sought here is the need for a judge to possess a strong sense of self and a healthy emotional balance.
One who has no commitment to oneself will likely be swayed by external influences and biases.
A person in ‘need’ is never happy. A person who is in a state of unhappiness cannot view the world with objectivity.
One who is committed to the truth because it is his essence and everything, he stands for will be much less vulnerable to negative influences. One who realizes that one’s very identity is defined by the truths one lives by and is committed too, and nothing can contribute to one’s happiness more than being true to oneself, will never permit oneself to sacrifice that reality for anything shallow and fleeting.
This is perhaps the deeper meaning of the words of the Rambam when he speaks of pursuing truth, מחמת עצמן - because it is who ‘I am’.
One who lives with a healthy perception of self, will live happily remaining inviable to the temptations of flimsy joys and pleasures.
We may never become formal judges, but all of us are judgmental in nearly every arena of life.
In order for us to see the world in all its brilliant truth, it is incumbent on each of us to aspire to become in touch with ourselves and discover who we really are, what it is we truly stand for, and what it is that gives us emotional stability and ultimately genuine happiness.
In the end there is really ‘nothing but the truth’!
צבי יהודה טייכמאן