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D'Var Torah - Parshas Bo
By Rabbi Baruch Lederman


DVAR TORAH: Bo
        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:
 
        Reb Dovid'l 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 truth.


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