Shoftim: the honor of judges

scales of justiceI love this parasha.  I know I know, I say that all the time.  But this one is particularly close to my heart.  It is Shoftim, Judges.  My father was a judge.  And my father’s best friend was a judge. My father died decades ago.  His best friend Harvey died this week.

Richard and Harvey were exactly the kinds of judges the Torah was talking about, “You shall not judge unfairly; you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes for bribes blind the eys of the discerning, and upset the plea of the just.  Justice justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive….”  (Deut. 16:18-20)

It’s interesting to note that Torah tells us that the community is to appoint the judges – they’re not identified by God.  They don’t have to convince God that they’re the right persons  for the job – they have to convince us.  Many have maligned those on the bench; they’re corrupt, they’re inadequate, they’re only there because of connections.  I suppose for some, that may be true.  It wasn’t true of Dad or Harvey.

I remember discussing a Supreme Court nominee with my dad years ago.  I think it was Robert Bork, so you know when that places it.  Dad and I were grappling with the idea of “legislating from the bench” and what it takes to make a good judge.  I don’t remember what he said about that last part, but I do remember that we both agreed that Mr. Bork would be a bad choice for the Court.  At that point, my father looked at me and said, “Hmm.  We agree.  I’d better go back and reconsider my opinion”…and then he winked.

Harvey and I didn’t talk about things like that.  Sometimes we talked about the issue that defined the earlier part of his and my dad’s careers:  the attempted Nazi march in Skokie.  Dad and Harvey were the two lawyers, among others in the Village, right in the middle of the whole thing, representing the Village of Skokie.  No one’s really around anymore from that slice of history.  Harvey was the last man standing.

Pirke Avot says, “Who is honored?  The one who gives honor to others.”  (Pirke Avot 4:1).  There were none so honored as the team of Richard and Harvey.  Zichrono l’vracha.  His memory is a blessing.

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