Sanhedrin 7


By: Meoros HaDaf HaYomi

The First Question

A person’s judgment starts only with asking him about his learning Torah.

Our sugya cites Rav Hamnuna that a person’s final judgment in the beis din of the World to Come starts with asking him about his learning Torah. However, Tosfos (s.v. Ela) compare this statement to the Gemora in Shabbos (31a), which asserts that a person is first asked if he did business faithfully and only then asked if he set aside fixed times for Torah study.

The Gerer Rebbe, author of Imrei Emes zt”l, answers this question in the spirit of our sages’ interpretation of the verse “And you shall love Hashem” – “that you should cause His name to be loved: One should learn the Torah, serve Torah scholars, do business faithfully and speak softly with people. What do people say about him? “Happy is his father who taught him Torah! Happy is his teacher who taught him Torah! How pitiful are those people who have not learnt Torah. That person who has learnt Torah – see how he exhibits such fine behavior.” But he who learns Torah and serves Torah scholars but fails to do business faithfully or speak nicely with people – what do people say about him? “How pitiful is that person who has learnt Torah!” (Yoma 86a). Hence, even though a person is first judged about the Torah he has learnt, he must first be examined if his Torah caused a sanctification of the Name by practicing business faithfully (Imrei Emes, Likutim).

The Thieves Who Were Not Caught

If the beis din takes his garment as payment for his debt, he should sing a song and go on his way.

Our Gemora says that if a beis din takes a person’s garment in payment for some debt that they ruled he was to remunerate, he should be glad.

The Chafetz Chayim zt”l offered the following parable to explain this statement. A group of experienced bandits enlisted some new members and, so as to easily identify each other, agreed that all the members should wear the same clothing. Once, after a hard night’s work, they went to an inn where they ate and drank to inebriation. After the meal some of them refused to pay and the innkeeper let them go only if they gave him their identifying garments as a pledge. A few days later the police found out about the bandits’ “uniform” and arrested them all, with the exception of those who had left their clothing at the inn. “Aha!” they laughed, “The innkeeper did us a big favor when he forced us to give him our clothing.”

A person should know, says the Chafetz Chayim, that any stolen garment or other purloined article in his possession is a reason for the loss of the rest of his wherewithal. If, then, a beis din takes that garment and gives it to the person to whom he owes a debt, they have done him a big favor as they have saved the rest of his possessions (Ahavas Chesed, II, Ch. 1).

The Talking Tree

If the matter is as clear to you as your sister’s being forbidden to you, pronounce it, but if not, do not pronounce it.

Our Gemora emphasizes a dayan’s duty to seriously consider the ruling he intends to announce and stresses that his decision must be completely clear to him.

Once, the Brisker rav, Rabbi Chayim Soloveichik zt”l, wanted to impress upon his son, who became the next Brisker rav, how clear everything must be to the person who says it. One’s pronouncements, he said, must be the firm and utterly unyielding truth, and he presented the following parable: Imagine you are passing by a tree and that someone there tells you that the tree spoke a few minutes ago. You would immediately conclude that he was unbalanced and even if ten people tell you the same, you would judge them insane. But if a thousand people say the same, you would start to think they were apparently mistaken and if 100,000 insist on it, you must consider that a tree could talk. This means, then, that it was never clear to you that trees can’t speak!

A Fair Trial

This is a warning to the beis din to refrain from hearing one litigant without the presence of the other.

Rabbi A.L. HaLevi Horvitz, author of Rashei Besamim, was required to judge the validity of a beis din that had heard one litigant without the presence of the other and he cited the example of Tzelofchad’s daughters: “And they stood before Moshe and before Elozar the Kohen and before the heads of the tribes and the whole congregation” (Bemidbar 27:2). Why must we know that they stood before the whole congregation? The Torah wants to emphasize that the potential litigants, the tribe of Menasheh, were also present, for if not so, Moshe would not have listened to Tzelofchad’s daughters (Kemotzei Shalal Rav, Parashas Pinchas).


Being a Dayan

The Gemora discusses the responsibilities of a dayan (judge). The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 10:1) exhorts a dayan to be patient when judging what the halachah is, and not to answer flippantly. A dayan should make 100 percent sure in his mind that this is indeed the halachah before paskening, and a dayan that doesn’t do so is labeled a shoteh, rasha and a haughty person.

Similarly if a dayan compares the question that he is asked to another case, and doesn’t ask a Torah scholar who is greater than him for his opinion, he too is categorized as a rasha that is a haughty person.

The Torah does not look favorably on a Torah scholar who is not on the level of being a dayan, and yet judges cases. Nor does it appreciate a scholar of high caliber who abstains from becoming a dayan. However, if he abstains due to the fact that there is another dayan in town, then he is to be commended.

A dayan should always try to make a compromise rather than to judge the case, even if he is one hundred percent sure of the halachah.

A dayan has an obligation to treat each case brought before him, even if it involves a negligible amount of money, with his full attention and seriousness.

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