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Think Like a Lawyer

Shoftim (Judges) commands us to think like a lawyer.

My job as someone who trains lawyers means thinking about the process of harnessing an undisciplined mind and forcing it to think systematically. For those who have not been blessed with legal training, let me give an example.

When most of us think about the Rules of Evidence, we visualize some lawyer shouting "Objection!" and a judge saying either "Overruled" or "Sustained". At trial, the Rules apply to keep the jury from hearing evidence that would lead their judgment astray.

But the process of learning the Rules of Evidence forever changes the way a lawyer thinks about the process of learning the truth. For example, the rule against hearsay says that it is dangerous to prove that something happened by bringing in a witness who heard someone else describe what happened. Such a witness might have misheard or misunderstood what was said or misinterpreted what was meant. Or the person they heard describe what happened might have been lying or joking or have been mistaken about what happened. To be sure we are getting at the truth, the witness must be the person who saw and heard the event. The jury needs to hear and see this person testify and be cross-examined so it can assess so whether to believe the testimony.

Once this rule has becomes part of how you think, you automatically test each piece of information you receive. This mental discipline helps lawyers - and juries - not be led astray.

Shoftim is concerned with keeping the children of Israel from being led astray from the parsha's core value: the pursuit of justice. "Justice, justice you shall pursue so that you can thrive and occupy the land YHVH gives us."

Shof'tim commands specific behaviors so we are not led astray from pursuing justice, some of which are rules of evidence. For example, there must be at least two witnesses before anyone can be convicted of a crime. And in the case of a capital crime the witnesses must be the first hands to stone the condemned so they cannot avoid being aware of the serious consequences of their testimony.

Vengeance is held in check by creating cities of refuge for those who have inadvertently caused a death. This saves the lives of those who had no evil intention, but, more important, it keeps those who would seek vengeance in the heat of anger from the guilt of having killed an innocent person.

Even the power of kings is constrained. Kings are forbidden from acquiring many horses and wives, and must have the Torah read to them all the days of their life so they will know the laws and be faithful to them.

Being disciplined in our behavior and in our minds prepares us to "tirdof" (pursue) justice. To truly "tirdof" justice, we must run after, quest after, hunger for justice.

I write this in a mood of deep despair over the events of last week - a week in which the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations was bombed, in which more US soldiers and Iraqi civilians were killed and wounded and were hungry and in want and in despair. In which suicide bombings in Israel killed at least twenty and wounded at least 100, in which Israeli forces killed, jailed, and oppressed Palestinians, in which Palestinian groups vowed more vengeance, and in which the Israeli leadership responded to Abu Mazen's attempts at peace by vowing to continue its policies of "eliminating" terrorist leaders. A week in which death rained down in Afghanistan and in so many parts of the world and hatred, suspicion, and vengeance were more in evidence than the pursuit of justice and peace.

All this horrible tit for tat going on while we have no courageous and moral leaders whose hearts and minds obey the commandment to pursue justice.

Perhaps our rulers have acquired too many horses, too many wives. Perhaps no one reads them the teachings of Torah each day.

But the actions or inaction of our leaders do not absolve us of responsibility. Nothing frees us of the command to be pursuers of justice. In our inter- connected world injustice leads to injustice, and where there is any injustice none can live in peace. So we must take up our responsibility to discipline our behavior and our minds, to be pursuers of justice so that we - and all - may thrive and live.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah