“Judges and officers you shall appoint in all your cities…and they shall judge the people with righteousness.”
The Midrash Tanchuma teaches us that the words “they shall judge the people with righteousness” adjures the shoftim to be melamed zechus — to defend Am Yisrael before the Ribbono shel Olam. “From whom do we learn this?” the Midrash continues. “From Gidon the son of Yoash, for in his time Yisrael was in a tzarah, and Hakadosh Baruch Hu sought a defense for them but did not find any, for the generation was poor in mitzvos and good deeds. When Gidon advocated for them, the malach immediately appeared to him and said, “Go, with this your strength, and save Yisrael from Midian.”
The Zohar Hakadosh (Zohar Chadash, Parashas Noach) says that although Gidon was neither a tzaddik nor the son of a tzaddik, because he spoke well of Yisrael and stated that they were worthy to merit wonders he himself merited to be their savior.
The Zohar goes on to say that even if one who speaks critically of Klal Yisrael were the greatest tzaddik in the world, he would still be severely punished.
In a similar vein, the Berditchever Rav, zy”a, the legendary defender of Klal Yisrael, interprets the first passuk of our parashah to be referring to ordinary people (not just judges) being dan l’kaf zechus. He states that when Hakadosh Baruch Hu will judge Klal Yisrael on the great Day of Judgment, He will do so with mercy and kindness. However, we must do our part to evoke this middah of chessed, by conducting ourselves with the middah of chessed and being melamed zechus on each and every Yid.
“Judges and officers you shall appoint” — through your actions you prepare your judgment; and “they shall judge the people with righteousness,” advocating for your fellow Yid will evoke Heavenly mercy for you. The Gemara (Megillah 12b) states that “With the measure that a man uses, the Heavenly tribunal measures out to him.” Since he defended another, he will emerge victorious in judgment as well.
The Mishnah (Avos 3:21) teaches us: “The collectors make their rounds constantly, every day, and collect payment from that person with his knowledge and without his knowledge.”
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that before a Divine decree is issued, the entire world is gathered and asked if they agree to it. Even the person whose fate is being sealed is consulted before the decree is passed. Certainly if he would be specifically asked about himself, he would seek to acquit himself. Therefore, he is “asked” indirectly — i.e., put into a situation to judge another, while in actuality he is judging himself. Thus, it is “with his knowledge,” for his viewpoint is consulted; but at the same time “without his knowledge,” for he does not know that it is his own fate that is at stake.
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Perhaps if we would fully recognize how Hakadosh Baruch Hu loves and values every single Yid, we would find it easier to be melamed zechus.
In Magen Avraham, the Trisker Maggid, zy”a, homiletically explains the pesukim at the beginning of Parashas Balak.
“Balak, the son of Tzipor, saw all that Yisrael had done to the Emori.” The Trisker Maggid says that what Balak feared so was the power of speech of Bnei Yisrael. He saw what they did to “Emori,” as in the word “emor,” speak; He saw the Torah being learned and the tefillos of Klal Yisrael.
The next passuk reads, “Moav was very frightened by the Am.” “Am,” which is usually translated as nation or people, can be also be related to omimos, which means cooled off (gechalim omimos — extinguished coals). Moav feared mightily even those members of Bnei Yisrael who had “cooled off” in their avodas Hashem.
He quotes his father, the Chernobyler Maggid, zy”a, who related that the Baal Shem Tov said: A Yid may be so busy with his work that he spends the entire day in the markets and streets and nearly forgets that there is a Creator of the World; yet when the time to daven Minchah arrives he gives a sigh in his heart over how he spent the entire day occupied with the futilities of this world. He runs to a corner and davens Minchah, and even though he doesn’t know at all what he is saying, nonetheless, his tefillah is very precious to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and the sigh of such a Yid splits the heavens.
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As we strive to achieve greater levels of holiness during these days of Elul, may we all merit to find ways to be melamed zechus on our fellow Yidden. In the process we will be judging ourselves for the good.