TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES
Rabbi Herbert J. Cohen, Ph.D.
"Cast the first stone" -- This is the directive given to the witness who testifies in a case of capital punishment.
This is the directive given to the witness who testifies in a case of capital punishment. In this week's Torah portion, we learn that if a person gives testimony which warrants imposing the death penalty of stoning, then the witness himself becomes the executioner. He carries out part of the death penalty by throwing the first stone. Why is this so?
The answer perhaps lies in our understanding of how a Torah Jew is supposed to think and act. Jewish law tells us that if someone has evidence in a case of a capital crime, he is duty bound to come forward to the court and say what he knows. However, his evidence must be incontrovertible. He must be absolutely sure of the truth of his observations because not only will his words convict, but he will also have to act on the basis of his testimony.
Therefore, the witness is inwardly compelled to weigh his words carefully, to be certain that what he says represents what he saw. The witness will not be able to give testimony and then walk away, oblivious to the consequences of his remarks. He needs to understand in his heart of hearts how his words will have a ripple effect far beyond the court room.
What the Torah is implicitly telling us is that we have to be extremely careful before we accuse someone of doing wrong. Our sages tell us to "be deliberate in judgment." They encourage us to be slow to condemn. Do not pass judgment quickly, for an ill considered statement on our part may cause irreparable harm to someone else.
As the month of Elul (the period immediately proceeding Rosh Hashanah) has come upon us, let us resolve to be extremely careful in the truth of what we utter and the consequences of our statements.
Rabbi Herbert J. Cohen, Ph.D. has been the dean of the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for the past two decades.
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