Yisro 5778


ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר (שמות יט:ב)

And Klal Yisrael encamped opposite the mountain (Shemos 19:2)

Rashi famously states that Klal Yisrael stood כאיש אחד בלב אחד, “like one person with one heart.” The Torah specifically points out that at the time of Kabbolas HaTorah, Klal Yisrael had reached a state of total אחדות, unity. In countless places, Chazal expound on this and explain that אחדות was a critical prerequisite for Klal Yisrael to receive the Torah. Klal Yisrael as a whole could only accept the Torah if they were united in their unconditional commitment to undertaking the Torah and its commandments for its proper sake.
In order to attain this, they needed to first rid themselves of potentially improper inclinations that would lead them to accept the Torah for ulterior motives. This included being wary of personal desires or interests that could lead one to manipulate the Torah to advance those interests or agendas. These feelings needed to be eradicated; every Jew needed to be prepared to accept the Torah purely for its own sake and the sake of Klal Yisrael as a whole.
If it were indeed to happen that individuals would stumble and stray from the communal goal of Kabbolas HaTorah, instead pursuing their own תאוות, desires, it would be the anithesis of אחדות. This idea is found in Sha’arei Teshuva (Sha’ar Rishon, Lamed Aleph.) Rabbeinu Yonah discusses the Pasuk in Mishlei (18:1) which statesלתאוה יבקש נפרד, which is regarding one who separates himself in order to follow his own תאוות. He explains that the Pasuk means that one who pursues his תאוות is “separated from any brother or friend,” meaning he detaches himself from the common interests of the Klal to fulfill his personal wants. When people see him preoccupying himself with chasing his own self-interests, they will come to distance themselves from him.
Clearly, overcoming תאווה was a primary obstacle for Klal Yisrael in achieving the unity necessary for Kabbolas HaTorah. In the end, the Jewish people indeed overcame this challenge and merited receiving the Torah.
This may be why Rashi specifically chose the phrase כאיש אחד בלב אחד to signify Klal Yisrael’s unity at Har Sinai. The Jews understood that in order to accept the Torah in a unified manner, they needed to commit unconditionally to achieving that goal together, while making their own personal desires secondary. They first made themselves כאיש אחד, like one person comprised of different parts, all working towards a communal goal. Only then were they בלב אחד, with one heart. The heart is the center of one’s personal desires. Klal Yisrael made sure that the communal goals, represented by the איש, were in check before focusing on the לב, representing their personal desires.
There is a well-known Arizal which says that had Klal Yisrael remained only a moment longer in Mitzrayim, they would have sunk to the fiftiethשער הטומאה , “gate (or level) of impurity” and could no longer have been redeemed. Based on this thought, it may be understood that had they stayed any longer, they would have become totally entrenched in the impurity of תאווה, which was the trademark of Mitzrayim. Had that occurred, they would be so preoccupied with their own personal תאוות that it would have been impossible for them to join together and attain the proper אחדות necessary for Kabbolas HaTorah. The purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim was that Klal Yisrael would afterwards receive the Torah. (see Sfas Emes on Sukkos). Therefore, had they reached a point before leaving Mitzrayim where they would no longer be fit to receive the Torah, there would no longer have been a purpose for Klal Yisrael to be redeemed.


Yisro advised Moshe to establish a system of judges comprising “rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Exodus 18:21). What was the rationale behind this? What was the difference in roles of the various “rulers”? The Sforno ibid. explains that this was a hierarchical appellate system: a case would originally be heard by a first-level judge; an appeal would go to the next level, then to the third, then to the fourth, and only a small minority of cases would ultimately reach Moshe Rabbeinu himself.
This explanation is not easily borne out by the Poskim. The Gemara (Bava Basra 138b) declares that “Beis Din does not review (the verdict of another) Beis Din.” In the context of the Gemara, it is not clear if this is a Halacha or an observation of the nature of a review. If it is a mere description, as Rav Ovadia Yosef learns (Shut. Yabia Omer chelek 2 Choshen Mishpat end of siman 2 os 8.), then there is no contradiction from this Gemara to the concept of an appeal.
Moreover, some Poskim limit this principle to earlier generations, when the judges “were great sages of Torah,” but reject its application to contemporary times, when “hearts have become diminished” (Radvaz in Shut. Avkas Rocheil siman 21). Most Poskim, however, maintain that the rule is still in force (Maran in Shut. Avkas Rocheil ibid.; Shach Choshen Mishpat siman 39 seif katan 36), even if the original judges are not especially renowned. Furthermore, Rishonim strongly reject the idea of reconsidering a case on which a Beis Din has already ruled (Shut. Ha’Rosh klal 85 siman 5-6, cited in Beis Yosef Choshen Mishpat siman 12 os 38).
The Poskim give two rationales for the illegitimacy of reviewing a Beis Din verdict: it is the right of the winning litigant to decline to submit to review of the case, and it is disrespectful to the initial Beis Din to subject its verdict to review (see Beis Yosef Choshen Mishpat siman 22 end of os 3 mechudash 6, cited in Sema ibid. seif katan 9).
However, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 31b) does offer an option which seems to imply that appealing a Beis Din verdict is indeed possible: the right of a litigant to demand a written account of a verdict that went against him.
The Poskim understand that the purpose of this Halacha is to enable review of the verdict by another Beis Din. (Hagahas Ha’Rema Choshen Mishpat siman 14 seif 4; Sema ibid. seif katan 25).
Shut. Yabia Omer ibid. suggests that the objection only applies to a new rearguing of the case, but an existing verdict may be reviewed.
Shut. Tzitz Eliezer chelek 16 siman 67 seems to understand that the objection to review is limited to a case where the litigants have appeared voluntarily before the Beis Din. If they were compelled to attend, even by the mere issuance of a summons, the verdict may be appealed.
In the Sefer Shut. Choshen Ha’Efod Choshen Mishpat siman 42, Rav Dovid Pipono, the Rabbi of Salonika, writes that in his time (late 10 hundreds) there was an appellate system in place.
The Mishpotei Uziel (First Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel), in his essay on the formulation of a state on the lines of Halacha, discusses the need for a more inclusive jurisprudence system and an appellate option. (Mishpetei Uziel pp. 16-1815, Yaskil Avdi, Siyuma D’Psaka).
The most significant example of such a system is the Beis Din hierarchy of the official Israeli Rabbinate. While it has been noted that its initial establishment was not without controversy, and that its inspiration may have derived from secular society (Mishpetai Uziel), the current consensus accepts the institution. As Rav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg notes, “All the nation in our Land, and even the most extreme Charedim, utilize this right and bring appeals before the Beis Din HaGadol, and I know and am a witness to this.”
Rav Ovadia Yosef adds that “many of the Gedolei Ha’Dor in the Holy Land personally (participated in this system) and sat and judged in the Beis Din HaGadol of Appeals …” (Yabia Omer ibid).
(For further discussion of this topic, see Rav J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halachic Problems Vol. IV. And archives of Beis Vaad Rabbi Dovid Grossman, upon which this article is based).