This week’s parasha starts with the emanations and penumbras of the fifth דברה:
The question is often asked, why is כיבוד אב ואם in the first tablet? We assume the first tablet is the מצוות בין אדם למקום. The usual answer is that honoring parents is a part, almost a metaphor, for honoring G-d Himself:
And that extends into this parasha, which deals with all forms of authority:
Rav Yitzchok Hutner makes an “etymological” point that I find fascinating:
Not only is the nature of human authority a metaphor for Divine authority, but that is the very nature of metaphor itself. If we see the human mind as a tool for learning Torah (this is a major point I’d like to go into more in the future), then the reason that literary techniques like metaphor and metonymy appeal to us is because it gives us the ability to relate to Torah and to ה׳.
The laws of authority continue:
The question is, what to these last three prohibitions have to do with judging? What are they doing here? They must somehow be relevant, and the halacha specifically says that in ספר דברים, we can derive legal implications from the placement of adjacent laws:
And the midrash puts all six of these laws together:
I’m going to answer the question based on the Kli Yakar on פרשת משפטים, who asks:
And in fact, there is a version of this midrash that does use the “right” laws:
The Maharal takes the last three laws literally, and says that שלמה as the king needed a specific warning against עבודה זרה:
But the Kli Yakar takes them metaphorically. They teach us something about the nature of משפט and שופטים:
It goes back to the laws that Moshe taught immediately after מעמד הר סיני, before he went up for 40 days:
There’s a connection between building a מזבח and setting up משפטים:
What does that mean, כל מה שפוסל במזבח פוסל גם בסנהדרין? Each of the “superfluous” laws teaches us how to approach judgment and authority.
לא תקים לך מצבה
The metaphor is obvious:
Don’t try to judge alone.
לא תטע לך אשרה
It’s not enough to hear other opinions; you have to listen to them.
###לא תזבח לה׳ אלקיך
What does a blemish have to do with justice? The classic “blemishes” are being blind and lame:
And both of these are metaphorically associated with taking bribes:
Taking bribes creates a מום, not just in that specific case, but it is a מום רע, a permanent disability. Impartial judgment becomes impossible.
Why do we care? Because we are all judges, about others and about ourselves. As Rav Dessler says:
Our prejudices and self-interest act as “bribes” that blind our judgement. The Torah is telling us to not be a מצבה—don’t be so self-important that you think you alone can judge; don’t be an אשרה—don’t try to overshadow others; and don’t be a בעל מום—don’t let your self-interest blind you.