A passage in this week’s Torah portion states: “You shall not respect persons in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike.”

Our sages tell us that this verse admonishes us not to favor or show partiality to any person in a legal case. Furthermore, this passage refers to judges, and sets forth that they must avoid everything that can possibly be construed as a bribe.

We are told that one of our sages named Rabbi Samuel was passing over a plank and laid across a stream, when a stranger drew near and offered his hand to lead him to safety over the frail bridge. Samuel, on inquiring who he was, learned that he was a man who was bringing a legal case to adjudicate before him.

“Friend, thou hast disqualified me by thy eager courtesy. I am no longer able to judge your case with impartiality.”

As for the reference to “small” and “great,” our commentators have interpreted those words as referring to those who appear to be distinguished people in contrast to those who appear to be less important. But they tell us that surface appearances are often deceptive. Seemingly important people may turn out to be less than significant, while “small” people may, in fact, be the nobility of the human race.

The message here for us: that each of us can make a difference in this world for good. That every act of kindness and generosity is recognized and important to God. I think it fair to say that the world merits to endure because of all of the “small” people who make such a great difference in our lives, and in the life of our world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Greenberg