Even when the letter of the law is on your side, you don’t necessarily need to enforce your every last right. Sometimes making concessions is the wiser choice.
In this week’s Torah portion (Vayechi – Genesis 47:28–50:26), one of the events we read about is how Jacob gathered his sons in order to address each of them before he dies. One of the things he says at this meeting is that his son, Dan, “will judge his nation”. Indeed, the name “Dan” means “to judge,” and many judges that emerged from the Jewish people came from this tribe. For example, Samson the Judge was from the tribe of Dan. We are told that those from the tribe of Dan were inherently fair and objective people, making them especially suited to serve as judges.
While the above description and contribution of the tribe of Dan to the Jewish people seems quite noble, the Talmud offers a different perspective on the tribe. The Talmud teaches that the people of Dan would run to court over every little matter, which paints a picture of a tribe full of people who were petty and nitpicking.
So what was it? Was their connection to justice praiseworthy or dishonorable?
The rabbis explain that these descriptions of the tribe of Dan offer insight and a lesson into the world of character traits. In Hebrew, character traits are called middot, which literally means “measurements.” Why do we refer to character traits as “measurements”?
We are told this is in order to teach us that even good character traits have to be “measured.” Too much of a good thing could pose a problem, and character traits are no different. In this case, sometimes it is great to have a sense of judgment, but on the other hand, don’t overdo it!
Dan was blessed with the ability to work in the world of judgment. But you know what? Not everything needs a courtroom to solve! Furthermore, even when the letter of the law is on your side (and any court in the word would agree!), you don’t necessarily need to enforce your every last right and entitlement. Sometimes concessions and going beyond the letter of the law (in Hebrew, lifnim mishurat hadin) for the sake of peace is the wiser choice.
This is an important lesson for us in our interpersonal relationships. We should always have an eye for objectivity, fairness and justice. But sometimes, even when you’re right and justice is on your side, consider overlooking the fine details for the sake of peace!
For more on this week’s Torah portion from Rabbi Ari Enkin, click below.