Yisroel Pensack: Some Thoughts on the Sentencing Hearing of Sholom Rubashkin

A sentencing hearing in the financial fraud case of former Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse manager and Lubavitcher chassid Sholom Rubashkin is scheduled to begin tomorrow (Wednesday) in federal court in Iowa.

There is a concept in Judaism that each Shabbat “blesses,” or serves as the spiritual conduit bringing down the heavenly blessing for, the following week.

We read in the Torah last Shabbat about the Tabernacle/Temple service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. An essential ingredient of atonement, the Torah says, is verbal confession of sin. The slaughtering and sacrificing of kosher animals also plays an important part in the rituals of Yom Kippur (and in the regular daily and holiday Temple services, as well).

The Torah reading last Shabbat also discussed various laws of holiness, among which are: “You shall not steal; neither shall you deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear by My name falsely, so that you profane the name of your God [causing a chillul Hashem — the desecration of God’s name]: I am the Lord. You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him; the wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning [in other words, don’t withhold or fail to pay a worker’s wages when due].”

The Torah last Shabbat commanded judges: “You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; you shall not respect the person of the poor, nor favor the person of the mighty [meaning a rich man or a man of influential family, says the commentator Rashi]; but in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.”

We also read in the Torah last Shabbat: “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

We also read last Shabbat, still in the section on holiness, other seemingly mundane commandments — to maintain just and true weights and measures and scales, about which Rashi comments, “He who gives false measure is like a corrupt judge who undermines social stability.”

After commanding us to keep honest weights, measures and scales, the Torah says: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Rashi explains why this is mentioned at this point: because God took us out of Egypt “with this end in view” — meaning, so that we would be honest in our business dealings! There is a Jewish teaching which says that after a man dies, the Heavenly Court asks him if he acted in good faith in business.

Wednesday’s scheduled hearing coincides on the Jewish calendar with Pesach Sheni (the second Passover), a presently inoperative holiday which is generally understood as symbolizing the concept that God gives each of us a “second chance” or, as the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe explained: “Pesach Sheni teaches us that ‘Nothing is ever lost; it’s never too late!’ Our conduct can always be rectified. Even someone who is impure, who was far away and even desired to be so, can still correct himself.”

Elaborating on this, the seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “On Pesach Sheni…we concentrate on rectifying and upgrading our current levels of conduct.”

That’s an appropriate message for all of us, myself included, to keep in mind on this somber occasion. But we should also bear in mind that according to the Torah, there’s much more to holiness than not getting one’s already-baked shmurah matzah wet on Pesach — a custom the Torah does not mention but which is scrupulously adhered to by Lubavitchers.

About Yisroel Pensack

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