For the week of February 1, 2003 / 29 Shevat 5763
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 21:1 - 24:18
Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25-26
Replaced by: 1 Samuel 20:18-42
Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit (Shemot / Exodus 23:2,3).
The Torah provides us with God's perspective of things. As we read it, we start to see life as God does. Through the Torah we are called to live that kind of life.
I find that many of the ways we try to follow God are based on our assumptions or traditions rather than upon what God actually says. That is one of the reasons why it is so important to keep referring to the Scriptures. They alone are our point of reference for God's eternal truth.
The verse quoted here from this week's parasha (Torah reading) is a wonderful example of how God's way of thinking can be so different from ours.
The first part of this statement is something we might expect: "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong." This is then specifically applied to lawsuits. We must not give in to the pressure that the majority applies in such situations. The majority should not determine what we should do.
This is easy to say, but not always so easy to do. Nevertheless, we must do what is right no matter what.
But doing what is right is not just about resisting the pressure to follow the crowd. The Torah also instructs us to "not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit." This principle may not be that obvious to us, since we tend to think that standing up for the underdog is a noble thing.
Note that this passage is not addressing our God-given responsibility to help the poor. We must be compassionate towards the less fortunate of our societies. But this call to compassion is not to be interpreted as a reason to show favoritism.
The poor's susceptibility to oppression by the more powerful of our society does not mean we should take their side in a dispute solely on the basis of their being poor. Justice is for all regardless of one's place or economic condition in society. As we are involved in the disputes of others, we need to be careful not to take sides, but to remain impartial.
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