Parashat Yitro: Peace in This World and the Next
We read in Parashat Yitro of Yitro’s suggestion that Moshe Rabbenu appoint a network of judges to work alongside him judging the people, rather than judge all the cases by himself. Yitro assures Moshe that if he follows his suggestion, "Kol Ha’am Ha’zeh Al Mekomo Yabo Be’shalom" – "This entire nation will come to its place in peace" (18:23). By establishing an efficient judicial system whereby everybody is guaranteed to have his disputes resolved promptly and fairly, Moshe can help maintain peace and goodwill among Beneh Yisrael. When people know that all disputes are being handled properly, and that everyone is giving and receiving precisely what they are supposed to, there is no resentment and people get along with one another in peace and harmony.
While on the surface Yitro’s point seems clear, the Hafetz Haim (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, 1839-1933) notes a subtle point in Yitro’s choice of words that should draw our attention. Our Sages have taught that there is a distinction between wishing somebody that he should go "Le’shalom" and go "Be’shalom." The word "Le’shalom" is the term that should normally be used when bidding somebody farewell, whereas "Be’shalom" is reserved for the deceased. We should use "Be’shalom" only when bidding farewell to a departed person and wishing him or her a pleasant and peaceful afterlife. Why, then, would Yitro use the word "Be’shalom" in this context? He obviously wasn’t anticipating that everyone among Beneh Yisrael would die; the point he was making was that an efficient judicial system would help ensure a peaceful existence here in this world. So why did he use the term associated with the deceased?
The Hafetz Haim explained that Yitro here actually refers to peace in both worlds – this world and the next. If a person leaves this world holding onto money or property that does not lawfully belong to him, he does not experience rest in the afterlife. He will have to return to this world in a different incarnation in order to return the assets. A proper judicial system thus ensures "Be’shalom" – that people can enjoy peace in the afterlife and enjoy the delights of the next world. If disputes are not properly handled in this world, then the soul will have to return at some later point to handle them.
The Hafetz Haim’s powerful words should serve as an added deterrent against dishonesty in our financial dealings. People might be tempted to think, "Well, it’s only a few dollars," or "Look, this is how things are done," and justify dishonesty on this basis. The Hafetz Haim warns us that even "if it’s just a few dollars," and even if "this is how things are done," these factors will not help one in the next world. For those few dollars, he will be denied rest in the next world.
Simply put, we need to remind ourselves that it’s never worth it to act dishonestly. No matter how much money we stand to gain or save through even a so-called "minor" ethical breach, we will end up losing, either in this world or the next. And the loss will always far, far exceed anything we could possibly gain.