By Dov Silberman
In the last post we raised three different legal maxims, each separately showing the superiority of truth, justice or peace. Is there a Supreme Value, and if so, which is it?
Jewish jurisprudence grapples with this question.
In fact, it sets up the ultimate lawgiver, Moses, who delivered the Ten Commandments, as standing for strict justice, with one party winning against the other, against his brother, Aaron, the high priest, who epitomises reconciliation and peace between the warring litigants.
The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin 6b recounts:
“….But let the law cut through the mountain, for it is written, “For the judgment is G-d’s” (Deuteronomy 1.17).
And so Moses’s motto was: Let the law cut through the mountain.
Aaron, however, loved peace and pursued peace and made peace between man and man, as it is written (Malachi 2.6) , “The law of truth was in his mouth, unrighteousness was not found in his lips, he walked with Me in peace and uprightness and did turn many away from iniquity”
Heavens falling and mountains being cut through use the same imagery – that of nature (the inanimate world) being damaged and/or destroyed. It is a metaphor for society, as well as our normal interpersonal relationships.
Strict Justice does not worry about how the judgement will impact on society, as we saw from Lord Mansfield’s judgement in the last post, or even for that matter, on any party except for the winner. But Peace prefers to settle things by brokering a settlement and encouraging the continuing friendly relations between people.
How Aaron did this is described by the Talmudic text Avoth De-Rabbi Nathan (The Ethics of Rabbi Nathan) chapter 12.3:-
“When two men had quarrelled with one another, Aaron would go and sit with one of them and say, “My son, listen to what your friend is saying. He strikes his chest, tears his clothing, and says, ‘Woe is me! How can I look at my friend. I am ashamed, for I am the one who mistreated him.'”
He would sit with him until he had removed all anger from his heart, and then Aaron would go to sit with the other one and say to him; “My son, listen to what your friend is saying. He strikes his chest, tears his clothing, and says, ‘Woe is me! How can I look at my friend. I am ashamed, for I am the one who mistreated him.'”
He would sit with him until he had removed all anger from his heart. When the two men met, they would embrace and kiss each other.”
It would appear that Peace and friendly relations, trumps not only Justice, but also Truth.
Problem – The Talmud above simply states the philosophical stances of Moses and Aaron. The Ethics’ quote describes Aaron’s method. Yet of all the supports that the Talmud could have brought to justify Aaron, the one and only proof it brings is a verse that explicitly states “The law of truth was in his mouth…….”
But it is quite obvious that Aaron was not telling the truth. He lied when he went to the first person and told him the other was blaming himself for the quarrel.
The verse continues “…. unrighteousness was not found in his lips…..” Yet Aaron does not seem to be too concerned with the rights and wrongs of the situation. Could we extrapolate and imagine that he seems to want peace at any price, or at least at a high price?
I am sure that the Talmudic authors realised these paradoxes. By using that verse and story, they wanted to teach us even more lessons about not only Justice, Peace and Truth, but also about the fundamental nature of Man and how that impacts on Conflict Resolution. Their views, I suspect, are different from certain parameters used in all the usual forms of mediation today.
And let’s not forget that Moses is placed in contrast to Aaron. Moses is supposed to have received the Law from G-d. Surely G-d would therefore side with Moses’ approach. How could Aaron go against it, and how could it appear that the Talmud favours Aaron?
I will give my views in another post, but in the meantime – what do you think?