The Value of Every Human Being
This week we read about the importance of justice. In 19:15 the Torah warns judges to act with scrupulous honesty and integrity:
You shall commit no injustice in judgment; you shall not favor a poor person or respect a great man; you shall judge your fellow with righteousness.
טו לֹא־תַֽעֲשׂ֥וּ עָ֨וֶל֙ בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹֽא־תִשָּׂ֣א פְנֵי־דָ֔ל וְלֹ֥א תֶהְדַּ֖ר פְּנֵ֣י גָד֑וֹל בְּצֶ֖דֶק תִּשְׁפֹּ֥ט עֲמִיתֶֽךָ:
Twenty verses later the Torah uses the same phrase:
You shall not commit a perversion of justice with measures, weights, or liquid measures.
לֹא־תַֽעֲשׂ֥וּ עָ֖וֶל בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֑ט בַּמִּדָּ֕ה בַּמִּשְׁקָ֖ל וּבַמְּשׂוּרָֽה:
The same phrase is used again, only this time it is addressed to every merchant, storekeeper and peddler: maintain honest weights and measures.
Dr. Michal Tikochinsky writes that the usage of the same phrase used in both instances is meant to be a powerful statement by the Torah of the value of every person: whether they are a formal judge or a simple fruit vendor- both are called upon to not corrupt justice. Both are informed that there is potential sanctity in their respective fields of work. Both are considered judges with all of the responsibilities and accolades attached therein: ie just as a judge on a Beit Din/ Sanhedrin/ that takes his job seriously is considered as if he has partnered with God Himself, so too a salesman or vendor that acts appropriately is on similar spiritual footing.
The Sanhedrin judge and the fruit vendor may occupy different socio-economic strata. Yet both of them deserve our dignity and earn our respect through their honest conduct.
Our responsibility as Jews is to see every human being and the value contained within, so that no one feels invisible or marginalized. The word respect in Hebrew- Kavod is related to the word Kaved- which means heavy. We show respect for someone by treating them and their concerns in a heavy manner- ie with attention and seriousness.
The opposite of heavy is light- Kal. Kal is the root of the word Kilel- which means to curse and is also found in Parshat Kedoshim: Lo Tekalel Cheresh, do not curse the deaf (19:14).
The problem with cursing the deaf is that behaving in such a way shows how lightly that person is taken- how that person is treated without respect and is marginalized. It’s not surprising that the prohibition in the Torah is formulated in regards to a deaf person- because those who are different- learning differences, a disability, or mental health challenges- are often marginalized and taken lightly.
Let us learn from this week’s Parsha to appreciate the importance of Kavod Habriyot: of treating every single person with the dignity and respect that they deserve. Let us also apply that lesson and extend kavod to all whom we come into contact regardless of their social or financial status: whether they be a distinguished judge or a hard working fruit peddler.
Our rabbis promise that it is through honoring others that we ourselves are truly honored:
Avot 4:1: Eizehu Mechubad? Hamechabeid Et Habriyot:
Who is truly honored? One who is careful to honor all other humans.