From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
Talk about contrasts. I had just brought home a dozen roses to my wife for Mother’s Day when it was time to drive to the cemetery to visit my mother’s grave, as her yarhtzeit begins this evening. Her name was Ruth and fittingly she passed away the day before erev Shavuos. Her funeral was just a few hours before Shavuos started and my father and my seven siblings sat shivah for about an hour. That was it, 19 years ago today.
Our religion is most unique. Unlike other major religions, our heritage was revealed before hundreds of thousands of people. True, we have had our prophets that had one-on-one communication with G-d who then revealed the contents of said discourse to the masses. But the bulk of our Torah was given in front of the entire nation. That, my friends, lends credibility to our teachings and gives our mesorah, our heritage, a certain ring of truth to it.
The dictionary defines credibility as “the quality of being believable or worthy of trust.” Shavuos, when we received the Torah, always touches a certain part of my existence that underscores credibility. The credibility of our way of life, the credibility of our religion, the credibility of our actions.
The confluence of Shavuos and my mother’s passing, in my mind, is no coincidence. My mother was a woman of truth who enjoyed a reputation of utmost credibility within our community and I dare say with G-d as well. Because she was a woman who was careful with every word she uttered, G-d ran His world, at least as it pertained to my mother, according to the words she spoke.
When she was but a child of seven, she said she wanted eight children. And G-d listened to her and she indeed bore eight children. When she was diagnosed with cancer at age 54, she was told she had but a few months to live. She told the doctors that she was not going anywhere until her youngest son, (my little brother who was then still in college) finished law school. Six years later, not a few months as the doctors predicted, but six years later, my brother finished law school on a Wednesday, my mother went into a coma on the next day, Thursday, and she passed away the next day on Friday night, the holy Shabbos eve.
As important as it is to learn our holy books, it is just as important to be a holy person. And if our book is the epitome of credibility, than it behooves us to live a life as Webster says, of “being believable and worthy of trust.”
In law we attorneys have an unwritten rule. We all understand that each client can get away with one small lie and still hope to have the judge or jury overlook it. Once the lie is either too incredulous or is accompanied by a second lie, the game is over. We settle and there is no way we let our client testify.
It pains me and I am embarrassed when one of my so called frum clients misrepresents crucial facts to a judge. Just last week a judge said to me, referring to my client, “I didn’t expect such lies from an Orthodox Jew. I thought you guys were different.” I was mortified and replied, “Your honor, we are supposed to be different. But just as not every litigant follows your orders, not every Jew follows G-d’s orders.” Mind you, the judge was Jewish as was the attorney on the other side, which made it even more embarrassing for me.
But the worst is when the lies and deception involve others.
Many years ago, a man, while he was still married to his now ex wife, devised a great scam with his boss, his synagogue, and a charity organization administered by his boss. The scheme went something like this. His boss paid him one third of his salary on the books. The other two thirds, the boss wrote out to the man’s synagogue which was a tax deduction for the boss. The synagogue in turn made out a check to a charity organization which so happened to be controlled by the man’s boss. The charity then gave cash to the man, representing the second one third of his salary, and paid the employee’s bills, the last third of his salary, out of the charity account on a monthly basis.
As if that was not bad enough, the man got really cocky, and after the divorce, decided to file a motion seeking a reduction in child support. He claimed he was making only $32,000 a year. In addition to that fact being incredulous (all of his monthly bills, which exceeded that amount, were somehow paid), it was further incredulous that a man with a master’s degree would command a salary of $32,000 a year when the janitor working in that same office made $40,000.a year.
But when you lie to others, you lie to yourself as well. You get all caught up and can’t remember your lies. You begin to claim things as fact that stretch all bounds of logic and you get caught. Little lies become big lies. Lies that might have had some truth to them become so unbelievable, but the liar can’t see it. And you get caught.
We had the goods on this guy who claimed poverty. The problem was that his pack of lies implicated his boss, a synagogue, the treasurer of the synagogue, and a charity. And thus I was faced with a very difficult predicament.
I don’t take these matters lightly and do not make these decisions myself. My office has a posek, a rabbinic scholar, whom we ask all these types of questions to. We followed the ruling, but the result was not pretty. Look how many people and organizations this one man threw under the bus in an attempt to avoid paying his ex-wife much needed child support.
In less than 48 hours we will receive the “Book of Credibility.” May we be worthy recipients. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.