An Instantaneous Verdict

July 12, 2007

Holy and Secular – The King was weary, frustrated, and humiliated. His beloved son had started a revolution against him. Now he was forced to flee from the palace in Jerusalem. As he descended the Mount of Olives, heading towards the east, the King met Tziva, who was coming towards him accompanied by two donkeys, loaded down with a cargo of food and wine. “What are you doing here?” King David asked. And Tziva replied, “I brought all this for you, my King.”

But King David was confused. He turned to the slave, “Where is your master Mefiboshet?“ And the slave replied, “Mefiboshet remained in Jerusalem, he expects that the kingdom will be returned to him. He is the son of Shaul, and he is sure that the kingdom belongs to his father and to him.“ King David seethed with anger, and he said, “If that is the case, then all of the property of your master Mefiboshet will be transferred to you.“ And he did not elaborate on this statement.

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“Now, when I have returned to Jerusalem, you remember me,” King David said to Mefiboshet. “Why didn`t you accompany my when I fled Jerusalem?” And Mefiboshet replied, “My slave deceived me. As you know, I am crippled, and I cannot move without help. Tziva did not allow me to accompany him. He went to you in secret, hiding the fact from me. But the king has the right to do with me whatever he wants. You were kind to me when you invited me to join your table, and I have no right to ask you for any favor.”

The King lost his patience, and he stopped Mefiboshet before he had finished talking. “You have spoken enough. Do not speak any more. You and your slave Tziva will divide the field between you. This is what I have decided, and this is what will be.”

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“At the moment that David told Mephiboshet that he and Tziva would divide the field among them, a heavenly voice declared that Rechavam (David’s grandson) and Yeravam would divide the kingdom between them… But if David had refused to listen to slander, the kingdom of David would not have been divided, Yisrael would not have worshipped idols, and we would not have been sent into exile from our land” [Shabbat 56b].

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For many years, I wondered why out of all possible wise sayings in the world the sages chose to begin their summary of ethics with the advice, “Be moderate in your judgments” [Avot 1:1]. What caused the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, that wonderful group of people who led the nation during one of the most difficult periods in its history, to put such a great emphasis on the need to be moderate?

I received the strongest possible answer to this question recently when I looked at the television broadcasts on the Knesset Channel. “Seventy-one percent of the public are opposed to the plea bargain with President Katzav, while only twenty-nine percent are in favor of it,” the Knesset Channel reported. A very short time after the plea bargain was announced, the citizens of this country had already decided strongly against the deal.

I do not understand how it is possible to make a decision about such a plea bargain without sitting for months to study the full evidence and without learning the relevant details of criminal law. On what basis did these people make up their minds about the plea bargain? Is it really possible to decide whether a complaint is valid by watching a press conference that took a mere 45 minutes? Is it really possible to decide whether Katzav is guilty or innocent based on an interview with his own lawyer?

The world is quite complex. Pathological liars often give the appearance of people who speak the truth, while honest people sometimes stutter and hesitate when they talk. Circumstances which seem to be very suspicious can have a reasonable explanation, while what seems to be simple reality can sometimes hide within it terrible injustice.

Our sages have taught us that we must be moderate in judging. We must listen very carefully to the evidence and weigh the issues carefully before coming to a definite conclusion. The world`s greatest injustices were committed by people who felt that they were punishing great evil, while in reality they were causing harm to righteous people. I do not know who is right, Katzav or his accusers, but I do know that reality is quite complex and well hidden, and we must be very careful before we decide to divide the field. One who rushes into a decision to divide a field that belongs to somebody else without first checking the facts with great care will have his own field divided too. That is the lesson to be learned from the heavenly voice.

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.