Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
Bringing Disputes to Din Torah
One of the most notable features of the Torah system of jurisprudence is its far-reaching insistence on exclusivity. The Torah tells us that disputes should be brought "before them", meaning the judges; as Rashi writes, we infer from this "before them - and not before a non-Jewish court". Voluntarily bringing a case to a non-Jewish court is considered a desecration of G^d's name. (Shemot 21:1 and Rashi's commentary)
Rav Nachman of Breslav gives the following explanation of the importance of judging according to Torah law:
Of course all of our business
dealings should be carried out according to Torah, and not in violation of
its laws. But Rav Nachman goes further and writes that these dealings,
properly carried out, are actually Torah!
One way of explaining this is to contrast it with the approach of the Sefer HaChinukh. In the rules of monetary judgment, the Chinukh generally states that the mitzva is to judge according to the rule. For example, in mitzva 53 he writes that the mitzva is "to adjudicate the laws of one who opens a pit where it constitutes a hazard", and that the law applies to those "on whom it is incumbent to judge".
Rav Nachman's understanding of the Torah commandment is that a certain outcome should actually obtain - it is a mitzva that the tort feasor should be obligated to pay damages, whether or not any court actually discusses the case.
Therefore, whenever we engage in commerce, buying and selling with integrity and according to the Torah's mandates, we are actually carrying out the Torah and living it, just as we do when we perform mitzvot.
Conversely, when a person does not fulfill his obligations he has severed his behavior from the realm of Torah. "He has uprooted the statutes which are clothed in commerce, and fallen into commerce itself [without any element of holiness], as if there is no Torah in our business dealings".
When this happens, the transgressor's punishment - as well as his rectification - is to bring the case to a Beit Din. The factual inquiry made by the judges is not just a necessary precondition for reaching a just verdict; it serves as a symbolic reenactment of the original transaction, but this time under the auspices of Torah. "Now, it is all transformed into a Torah judgment, for he will certainly have to bring all the details, and even all the thoughts, before the judges... and from this they compose the Torah judgment. Thus he has gone back and made Torah out of his transaction."
This can help us understand a seemingly cryptic aspect of the laws of Torah judgment - the prohibition to bring a case to a non-Jewish court even if this court judges according to the same rule used by Beit Din (SA CM 26:1). This court may reach the same just outcome that the Beit Din would reach, but without the aspect of actively applying the Torah to the details of our business dealings.
The gemara states that we are judged on whether we have dealt "in faith" (Shabbat 31a). One understanding is that we have to be honest; another is that we have to have faith in G^d. For Rav Nachman these two aspects are essentially the same. When we conduct our business dealings with faith in Hashem, we will be certain to carry them out according to the rules of honesty and fairness which He revealed to us through our Prophets and Sages.
Based on Likutei Moharan I:280
Publication Update: Rabbi Meir's book on Jewish business ethics, The Jewish Ethicist, is now in print! It has also just been named "Book of the Month" on the shamash.org website. It is available through Ktav publishing house, or ask your local bookseller.
We are also in the final stages of preparing Meaning in Mitzvot for print; revisions and proofreading are completed and we are now putting together the index and other front and end matter.
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own Qs — www.jewishethicist.com or www.aish.com.