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Jewish World Review
What does doing the right thing entail?
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
How to be good and do good
Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue.
The great Chassidic master Rebbe Simchah Bunim of P'shis'che observes that the repetition of the word ''righteousness''
means that one should pursue righteousness with righteousness.
We may not use unjust methods even in the interest of a just cause.
The end does not justify the means In commerce, good and bad are determined by outcome. Profit is good, loss is
bad. If someone undertakes a project in a helter-skelter manner and ends up with a windfall profit, he is a good businessman. If someone does a careful market
analysis, uses every bit of caution in setting up his business and goes bankrupt, he is a bad businessman.
It is unfortunate that our preoccupation with commerce has resulted in our
personal lives being influenced by commercial standards. We often evaluate ethical good and bad by results rather than by process.
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, the late dean of the Mirrer Yeshiva of Jerusalem, cites the incident where Moses chastised the High Priest,
Aaron, for burning a sacrificial offering against his instructions. Aaron argued that
Moses may have erred in understanding the Divine commandment. Moses conceded that Aaron was right.
''You are right. G-d had indeed commanded as you
said, but I had forgotten'' (Leviticus 10:20, Zevachim 101b).
Rabbi Shmulevitz points out that Moses was faced with a dilemma. Inasmuch as he was the sole conduit of G-d's word, to admit that he had forgotten something and erred would have placed the authenticity of the entire Torah (Bible) in jeopardy unto
eternity. ''If Moses could err in this, where else might he have erred?'' It would
perhaps be better if he said to Aaron, ''What I instructed you was right.'' Moses
decided that he had only one responsibility: to tell the truth, whatever the consequences
Preserving the authenticity of the Torah was G-d's problem, not
his. His duty was to tell the truth.
There is an interesting question that arises from a unique halachah, Jewish law. The Talmud states that in a case of capital punishment, if all seventy-one judges of the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) vote ''guilty,'' the case is dismissed. The rationale is that the cross-examination of the eyewitness was so meticulous that a minor discrepancy in the testimony was usually found, and this was enough to invalidate the testimony.
Therefore, if the testimony coincided so perfectly that there was not even the
slightest difference between the two so that not even one of the seventy-one judges could vote ''not guilty,'' this was ample reason to believe that the witnesses had been carefully rehearsed and that the accusation and testimony was set-up.
The votes of the Sanhedrin were oral rather than by secret ballot. The question
arises, suppose that seventy judges vote ''guilty,'' and the seventy-first judge
happens to feel that the defendant was not guilty. If he casts a ''guilty'' vote, then
the rule that a unanimous guilty verdict results in acquittal will apply, and his
opinion that the defendant is not guilty will be implemented. However, if he votes
''not guilty,'' then there is no unanimous vote of ''guilty,'' and the verdict will be
that of the majority: guilty. Should this last judge, therefore, vote ''guilty'' in order
to achieve the acquittal that he believes to be just?
The Ohr HaChaim says that the last judge must vote his opinion of ''not guilty,''
even though that will result in the opposite of what he believes to be just. Why?
Because a person is obligated to speak the truth as he sees it, rather than consider the result.
According to Torah ethics, the process must be righteous, because it is the
process that lies in human hands. Results are up to G-d.
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Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the
founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center
for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University
of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 30 books to
his credit, including, "Twerski on Chumash" (Bible), from which this was excerpted (Sales of this book help fund JWR).
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