While the most significant event in Parshas Yisro is the giving of the Torah, the parsha begins with a less dramatic, but also significant story. Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, joins the Bnei Yisrael in the desert and notices his son-in-law as the lone judge for the Nation judging their disputes. The commentaries differ as to whether Yisro felt it wasn’t respectful to the Bnei Yisrael to have them wait all day to speak to Moshe, or that he felt Moshe was putting an unhealthy burden on himself by having to judge every single case brought before him alone; but either way, Yisro proceeded to develop the first court system in Jewish history.
Yisro began to advise Moshe on the need for additional judges and designed a new chain of command with Moshe at the top. Additionally, he instructed Moshe on the proper way to pick new judges. “אַתָּ֣ה תֶֽחֱזֶ֣ה מִכָּל־הָ֠עָ֠ם אַנְשֵׁי־חַ֜יִל יִרְאֵ֧י אֱלֹהִ֛ים אַנְשֵׁ֥י אֱמֶ֖ת שׂ֣נְאֵי בָ֑צַע” “And you shall see from among the entire people, men of means, God-fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money…” (Shemos 18:21). Yisro felt four qualities were important in judges, Chazal in Nedarim (38a) agree, and explain these four middos as: strong, wise, wealthy, and humble. In fact, all four of these attributes were present in Moshe, making him the best example of a judge in the entire nation. Throughout the Torah, we see many examples that demonstrate the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu, and this is just another opportunity to explore his greatness.
The Kli Yakar explains why these four attributes were the most important in picking judges. Physical strength is important as they must not be able to be easily intimidated by unruly litigants or defendants. Humility is important as well. This middah is referred to as “God-fearing” in the pasuk since humility leads to true fear of Hashem. Someone who is not properly humble, who does not recognize the great responsibility placed upon him as a judge, is not fit to do so. After all, we believe the only true judge in this world is Hashem, for someone to step into that space and not be in awe of his power is someone who does not fear Hashem!
“Men of truth” is how the pasuk refers to men of wisdom. As a judge, you must be able to discern truth from lies in order to properly decide judgement. Not only must you be wise in order to properly see the truth, you must be able to maintain the truth regardless of the situation placed before you. Finally, it is important for a judge to be wealthy. Whether this refers to someone with actual wealth or to someone who is completely satisfied with what they have (Avos 4:1), the explanation is the same. They must “despise money”; someone who has everything he needs, and understands he has everything he needs, will not be tempted by a bribe. Since he has all that he needs, there is no temptation to take anything extra.
These were the men that needed to be selected as judges for the Jewish people. Nothing less than these four attributes would do. How great was this nation to have such great people among them, and how fortunate they were to be led by such a man.
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