Thursday, February 11, 2010

Parashat Mishpatim: Why So Many Courts?

The Island's System of Medical Care

The young man's smile was as bright as the island's sun. "I'm not so sure having doctors is such a good thing. I think they make people sick!"

He saw the disbelief in my face. "Look, here on the island we have very few doctors, " he explained. "The doctors are only in the larger towns. Yet there are very few sick people here."

But in your country," he continued, "each town and village has at least one doctor, and there are many sick people. Whenever I work with people from your country, they are always taking off days because of sick leave!"

Now it was my turn to smile.

"Let me explain the difference between our countries," I told him. "Here on the island, a person isn't considered sick until he is at death's door. And at that point, what good is a doctor? Therefore you have little need for doctors."

I stopped to swat a particularly insistent mosquito. "In my country, on the other hand, the doctors work hard to make sure everyone stays healthy. Any time a doctor sees someone who does not feel well, he prescribes the necessary treatment and bed rest so that the patient will quickly regain his health."

"So in a sense, what you say is true: the more doctors, the more sick people. With us, more people are under medical supervision to make sure they do not become seriously ill. This is how our extensive medical system helps maintain a high level of good health for the population."

Many Courts and Laws

The Jewish people are expected to be on high moral level, to be a "light unto the nations." One could ask: If they are so ethical, why do they need so many laws? If they are so moral, why do they need so many judges, with a court set up in every town and region?

Other peoples are only concerned with major offenses - murder, robbery, and so on. These major crimes occur infrequently, so there is no need for an extensive court system in every distant village.

The Jewish people, on the other hand, are commanded to avoid even minor offenses, like not embarrassing others and not slandering. Also, many Torah laws are not intuitively obvious. Therefore the Jewish people require many judges to guide them. This will allow them to attain the level of ethical behavior in their day-to-day lives that the Torah demands.

(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov pp. 159-160)