What if it were your kid?

Friday, 13 May, 2022 - 1:58 pm

I did my civic duty this month by showing up for jury duty. Yesterday was my last of the four days assigned to me. Just before noon, 50 of us were called into a courtroom for a jury selection process called “Voir dire.” The process had been going on all week and they were having a hard time finding the jurors they needed to begin the trial. It was unique in that there were three defendants, each with his own defense team. We watched as the group before us completed their voir dire, leaving a void of six jurors that needed to be filled by members of our group. Shortly after 2 pm, the prosecution began their presentation. By the time the third of the three defense attorneys got up to do his shpiel, it was already 6 pm. Knowing that there was a long road ahead of us, a few people in the group started to grumble about how late it was.

The attorney realized that he needed to get people to focus and take the process seriously, so he used the following tactic. He started addressing some of the grumbling folks and asked them if they had children. “Imagine,” he said, “if your child was taken into custody for something they hadn’t done, and the court was in the process of jury selection to ensure that they got a fair shake at justice. Would you want them to hurry up through the process because it was late and people were getting tired, hungry, and impatient? Or would you want the attorney to take his time and get the best possible group of jurors for a fair trial? Of course, for your child, you would want every effort exerted on his behalf. Well, you need to see that the same is done for the folks in this trial.”

This caused me to reflect on an idea that I heard as a young Yeshiva student. In the original Chabad Yeshiva in the town of Lubavitch, the youngest group of boys (after Bar Mitzvah) were entrusted for mentorship to Reb Michoel Bliner. He was an elderly chasid whose very presence was a valuable lesson for the boys in how to be a Jew and a chasid.

He would begin his first lesson each year with the following story. A simple villager received a letter with important information. Being illiterate, he brought the letter to the melamed (teacher), who the villagers hired to educate their children. As the melamed read the letter, the villager fainted. It contained the news of his father’s passing. Reb Michoel would ask the boys, “why didn’t the melamed, who had firsthand knowledge of the letter’s contents, faint, while the villager, who heard it secondhand, fainted?” He answered, “because it was the villager’s father.” He would then declare to the group of 13-year-old boys, “when you study Chassidus, you must approach it as if we are speaking of your own father (Hashem).” Only when you are personally invested in the subject matter, will there be the capacity for real impact.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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