With the arrival of the eight day Passover Festival on Monday night, I was preparing some material for our family-reunion Seder meal (Diane and I will be together with all three of our children, plus my visiting father from Jerusalem) when I stumbled across one of the most important of all verses in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Leviticus 19:15 declares: "You shall not commit a perversion of justice: you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great, with righteousness shall you judge your fellow."
About fifteen years ago I engaged in a memorable public debate with my friend Dennis Prager in which he rightly identified this passage as perhaps the most crucial conservative verse in the whole Bible.
It should, indeed, come as a revelation and a rebuke to all liberals that Holy Scripture identifies "favoring the poor" as "a perversion of justice."
As I argued in my recent townhall column about the essence of liberalism (posted on March 21st), the outlook of the left insists upon favoring the poor and the unfortunate—and thereby injecting unfairness and discrimination into the very core of politics and government. Favoring the poor, like favoring the rich, brings unequal treatment based on status, not actions. Justice requires rewarding good behavior, no matter its source, and discouraging and punishing bad actions, no matter who performs them.
Concerning the crucial sentence, Rabbi SchlomoYitzhaki (Rashi), the great 11th Century sage commented: "'You shall not favor the poor' means that you should not say that a wealthy man is obligated to help the poor, therefore it is proper for a judge to rule in favor of the poor litigant. Torah insists that justice be rendered honestly; as important as charity is, it must not interfere with justice."
Jewish tradition goes on to clarify the apparent contradiction between numerous Biblical injunctions to act compassionately to the poor, to the widow and the orphan, and this unequivocal insistence on avoiding favoritism. The essential point is that it's the individual that's primarily commanded to display compassion and give charity, while the government, particularly in its judicial aspect, must judge actions, not persons.