Moshe told Paroah
"Thus sayeth the L-rd, At about midnight the firstborn shall die." [Exodus
11:4-5] Rashi points out that G-d did not tell
Moshe at "about" midnight, He said at exactly midnight. Why did Moshe
change G-d's warning? Rashi answers that Moshe was concerned: perhaps the
Egyptians would have the wrong time. They would then think that the plague
came either earlier or later than Moshe predicted, leading them to
believe that Moshe was a liar and that the whole thing was not a
divine prophesy but a mere coincidence.
Many Rabbinic commentators
pose the following question: After Moshe was accurate about the first born
dying and he had been dead accurate about the first nine plagues
which were so openly miraculous, how could anyone think the tenth plague
was a coincidence even if it was a few minutes off. Rabbi Nosson Tzvi
Finkel, the famous Alter of Slobodka, answered that when a
person has a strong self-interest, he will be blinded to an even obvious
truth and will believe what he wants to believe no matter how far
fetched it is. A bias or self-interest is a very powerful
force as the following true story indicates:
Novardoker was a prominent Rabbi in Eastern Europe (circa 1800).
He served as a Judge in Rabbinic Court. He was once a
litigant himself in a Din Torah (Jewish court case), which he lost.
The Rabbi presiding over that Din Torah, the famous Reb Chaim
Volozhiner saw that Reb Dovid'l was very upset about it and had
difficulty accepting the loss. In fact he seemed to be angry at Reb Chaim
Volozhin feeling that he had ruled unjustly.
Some time later, there was
a yerid in the area. A yerid was similar to what we would now call a
tradeshow. Merchants came to buy and sell their wares and Rabbis would
also go to convene Rabbinic court. Jewish tradesmen with
business disputes would get together at a yerid and seek a Rabbi to judge
their cases. Reb Chaim Volozhiner encouraged Reb Dovid'l to attend the
yerid. Reb Dovid'l replied that he couldn't afford to attend. Reb Chaim
said that was all the more reason to attend since he would get some cases
to judge (Rabbinic judges were paid for their services). Taking Reb
Chaim's advice, Reb Dovid'l attended.
At the yerid, two
men sought out Reb Dovid'l, asking him to rule in a dispute
that they had. Each man told his story and Reb Dovid'l gave a ruling.
As it turned out, Reb Chaim had directed these men
to Reb Dovid'l. Reb Dovid'l soon realized that their case, was
essentially the same case as the one he himself had. In fact he ruled the
same way that Reb Chaim had ruled against him.
Reb Dovid'l now
understood that he had been blinded by his own personal involvement
in his own case and his natural desire to win. When he had to rule on the
same set of facts for two strangers he was able to judge the case solely
based on Talmudic jurisprudence and then he came out with the correct
ruling. Indeed he was now deeply thankful to Reb Chaim Volozhiner.
Reb Dovid'ls great great
granddaughter was the mother of Reb Dovid Leibowitz, who founded the
Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in New York in 1933. This story was told to me
by my Rebbi, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz shlit"a, the son of
Reb Dovid Leibowitz, who is proud of his great great grandfather for
having the ability control his emotion and see
through his own natural bias and come to the honest