As I was reading Parsha Mishpatim this week, I found myself doing so amidst the chaos and noise of the second impeachment trial of the former President. I hope that by this point in time that we are all familiar with the events of January the 6th, and the terrifying precedent that they set for the politicalization of violence moving forward. With the echoes of insurrection still fresh in my head and literally in my ear, I began to read “v’eilah ha-mishpatim,” or, “Now these are the ordinances…” (Ex. 21:1). This particular parsha is sandwiched directly between the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, and the events surrounding the Golden Calf that are to follow. This parshah goes on to relay 53 of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah, and shows us that the Torah is not just a document that explains religious life; but it is also concerned with the civil, the criminal, and just about all aspects of the human experience that one can think of. The Torah is comprehensive, and Mishpatim is where we seem to get our first real glimpse of its broad scope.
While studying, I was struck by the beginning of chapter 23, particularly verses 1 and 2: “Thou shalt not utter a false report; put not thy hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou bear witness in a cause to turn aside after a multitude to pervert justice.” Rashi makes it clear that the verse about uttering a false report can be interpreted as engaging in or believing “lashon harah,” which is translated to evil speech. More on Rashi in a moment. Let us think a bit more about the commandment, “thou shalt not utter a false report…” I am reminded of phrases such as, “stop the steal,” or “the election was rigged,” among many others. How many false reports have we heard uttered across our airwaves, on social media, and anywhere else where information is shared? There has been so much false reporting that, for some, it has become difficult to differentiate falsehoods from truths. When facts become political playthings, where are we even to begin formulating our opinions?
Our “leaders” need to step up and lead. I do not put the word “leaders” in quotation marks to be contentious or sarcastic, but to highlight the fact that many of those who have been elected to lead their constituents have failed to do so with any modicum of integrity. Let us look at the second verse of Exodus, chapter 23: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou bear witness in a cause to turn aside after a multitude to pervert justice.” I have to admit that I was most impacted by the portion, “…follow a multitude to do evil.” According to Hertz, this verse is simply telling us not to allow ourselves to be blindly led by a large group for the purpose of evil. What happened on January the 6th? Were the insurrectionists not blindly following the orders of one man in order to do evil, and to attempt to follow through with the perversion of justice in the form of overturning the results of an election?
Now that the impeachment trial is underway, let us turn again toward Rashi’s interpretation, as it is all the more timely. Rashi believes that a judge has an obligation to make his true opinion (based on facts and evidence) be known, even if that means going against the majority. Did the former President of the United States not incite this multitude to engage in evil acts that led directly to the deaths of 7 people (including the two Capitol Police officers who died by suicide in the proceeding days)? The judges in this impeachment trial are the Senators of the United States of America. Experts and all who are tuned into the proceedings are sure that all of the GOP Senators will vote along party lines, and the former President will not be convicted, which could have a devastating long-term impact. I ask these Senators to consider Rashi’s commentary. Will your judgment be based on what you know to be true, or will you simply follow the multitude blindly? The horrifying reality of what happened that day was literally in front of their faces, and it is up to them to choose blindness or truth.
Leviticus 19:14 tells us: “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind.” This prohibition can be taken at face value, as we should not put in place physical barriers that would inhibit the movement of, or endanger one, who is visually impaired. This commandment also tells us not to intentionally give bad or faulty information to one who is lacking proper understanding in a given situation. It is clear that the former President and all of his enablers placed a large stumbling block in the direct path of many who so blindly followed his every word and tweet.
Again, it is time for our leaders to properly lead, and to set an example for those who have been damaged by the stumbling blocks of a broken demagogue. When the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, it was given for all of us: for the House of Jacob and the Children of Israel. Speaking of children, what will they read about in their history books? Will they read of a country whose leadership decided that lies so damaging that they led directly to insurrection and death, are acceptable? Will they be able to read of a single soul who faced instead of followed a multitude?
May we all be blessed with the sight to leap over stumbling blocks, make the unpopular decisions, and find our way back to truth. For in the lies and deceit there is only pain and hurt, but in the truth exists kedusha (holiness).