Leading The Jewish high court has a rule when judging a defendant for a capital crime: the judges always look for some reason why the defendant shouldn’t get the death penalty. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of the severity of his crime, maybe it was inadvertent or a host of other reasons. When vote is taken, if every member of the court (a court trying capital crimes requires twenty three members) votes that the person deserves the death penalty, then the defendant isn’t given that sentence. At least one person is expected to find some meritorious trait or appropriate law in the defendant’s favor. To be a judge it’s not enough to be an erudite scholar with impeccable reputation in the community, a judge must not be too old and must be a parent. Why are these traits prerequisites for a judge? Children teach one to be compassionate; “too old” is defined as one who has forgotten the difficulty of raising children. The Torah takes great steps to insure that every person convicted of a capital offense is judged with extreme sensitivity.
There is only one exception to this rule and that is the person who leads Jews astray. Concerning such a person, the Torah takes the opposite approach.
You shall not take kindly to him and you shall not listen to him; your eye shall not take pity on him, you shall not be compassionate and you shall not cover up for him. (Deuteronomy 13:9)
In addition to the above verse, we can appoint a childless and/or old judge-or even one who is cruel. The Torah’s approach for this person is diametrically opposed to the way it views every other criminal who committed a capital offense. What was this person’s goal? …for he sought to make you stray from God (ibid. v.11). There are many terrible deeds -even actions that mandate a death penalty but the case of the one who seeks to make you stray from God is the worst. It’s an anomaly; the court does everything in their power to convict him.
There’s a fundamental Jewish principle: whenever the Torah mentions a punishment for a wrong doing, if one does the opposite of that deed then he will receive a reward. If one murders, there is a death penalty. According to this principle, if one sustains life-financially, cooking for the needy, taking care of their medical need, or anything else-that person will be granted life. There are numerous stories over the centuries of people who were sick who vowed to undertake helping people and miraculously the illness disappeared. Sometimes even helping a person out of depression is a way of giving life. He had no will to live-like after the Holocaust-and someone was able to renew his desire to live and start a new family.
How does this apply to the one who sought to make you stray from God? If his penalty is so severe, imagine what the reward is for someone who brings people closer to God. If one gives a class that will connect a person to his/her Jewish roots, there’s no way to estimate the reward. Some will say, “I’m ignorant, I’m not a scholar in Jewish matters, so what can I do?” This statement is not valid! If you learned the Hebrew alphabet, you could teach it to someone else. If you found a good article on a website that encourages the reader to think, learn, and inquire more about being Jewish, you can send it to a few friends. If you attend a class that you enjoyed and felt enriched and made you proud to be a Jew, invite a friend to the class.
In a few weeks, it will be Rosh Hashanah and we will be pleading for life. The Torah portion this week gives us a golden opportunity of how to acquire merit-“points”-in order to have a happy, healthy, and productive life. There are literally millions of estranged Jews and if nothing is done to reach out to them, they will be lost forever. The Torah gives us a win-win proposition: take an active role in educating Jews and invite them to partake in their rich Jewish heritage. Let them feel the taste of living as a Jew. It might take a bit of your time but there’s return on your investment; you’ll be paid back with interest.
(Source: Kitvei Ha-Sabba Mi-Kelm)