We are enjoined to establish a justice system in which righteousness is the criterion by which justice is determined and by which reward and punishment is to be meted out. While justice is a concept ingrained in all humanity, the Jewish religion places a premium on justice and considers it the foundation of our existence. Hashem is the Ultimate Judge, the Arbiter who determines what is right and what is wrong. A society that adheres to rewarding good and punishing bad is a just society. A society which disregards good and bad is corrupt. Justice is the lodestar by which we navigate life in our society. Thus, one who acts unjustly does not belong in our circle.
In his commentary to (16:20), L’maan tichyeh v’yarashta es ha’aretz; “So that you will live and take possession of the Land,” Rashi writes: “The merit of appointing judges keeps Am Yisrael alive and allows them to settle upon the Land.” Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, writes (concerning the above Rashi), “So great does the Torah consider the concept of mishpat, justice, that merely the appointment of Judges, even without enacting a system, is sufficient reason to keep Klal Yisrael alive. All the Heavenly promises we merit to receive are due to our adherence to even the simplest laws, such as monetary disputes.”
The Mashgiach teaches us that the justice system is not to be followed merely in order for society to determine how it should live, what to do and what not. The concept extends far beyond that. It is the reason that we are alive. Without justice as our guide, we are not worthy of life! The perversion of justice in the most minute manner — when absolute truth is not our guide — is the beginning of the destruction of the individual and the society which permits it.
Our gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants, personified the Torah’s view of mishpat. To take something from another person, regardless of the circumstance, even with the knowledge that the owner would be honored to give permission for its use, is considered tantamount to theft. It is not absolute truth. If the individual were to be asked, “Do you have express permission to use it?” and the answer would be, “No,” even though the person would certainly have given permission, the act constitutes theft. Horav Moshe Chevroni (Rosh Yeshivah, Chevron) once sat in his seat on the Mizrach vont, eastern wall (the prestigious place reserved for the Roshei Yeshivah and distinguished guests), during Mussaf on Shabbos without a tallis. He davened Mussaf not wearing a tallis. Apparently, he had to leave davening for a few moments and had removed his tallis. When he returned, he discovered someone had taken his tallis by mistake. Halachically, he was permitted to use the other man’s tallis. A dispensation allows one to use another fellow’s tallis for a short while. The Rosh Yeshivah refused to rely on the dispensation. If it was not his tallis, he would not use it. Instead, he would sit in front of the entire yeshivah and daven without a tallis.
When Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, arrived in Eretz Yisrael to serve as Mashgiach in Ponovezh, a group of students from Gateshead, England (where he had founded and built the yeshivah), joined him. When they wanted to speak with their Rebbe in learning, he demurred. He said, “I have been hired to serve as Mashgiach, to be the ethical supervisor of the student body. As such, I am supposed to devote all of my thoughts and abilities to this task. To take time off to speak in learning on another subject is akin to stealing.”
Last, when Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, the Mashgiach in Ponovezh, reached the age of seventy-five, he asked the Ponovezher Rav, zl, to relieve him of his duties. He felt that, due to his age, he was unable to devote enough of himself physically to the students.
The Rosh Yeshivah replied, “Rav Chatzkel, I am prepared to pay your salary just to have you daven and learn in the bais hamedrash. The bachurim, students, benefit just from looking at you!”