Weekly Pre-Shabbos D’var Torah from Rabbi Gutstein

D’Var Torah:

In this week’s parsha, the Torah states, “Through the mouths of two or three witnesses a person will be put to death. He cannot be executed through the testimony of one witness.” Upon quoting this verse, the Talmud asks, “If two witnesses can convict a person, certainly three witnesses can convict a person! Three is greater than two!” The Talmud responds that although we would think that the testimony of three or more witnesses should outweigh the testimony of two witnesses, the Torah is teaching us that two witnesses is just as powerful as three. If three witnesses testify that the defendant committed a crime and two witnesses testify that the defendant did not commit that crime, the testimony of the two witnesses nullifies the testimony of the three witnesees and defendant is declared innocent. The same is true if it would be 5, 7, 10 or more against 2.


This is the definitive Halachik ruling in the Talmud. However, there is a difficulty. The Torah has a rule that, assuming all things being equal, we follow the majority.  So why does the Torah overrule its own law in the case of court testimony?

Through equating the power of testimony by two witnesses to that of three witnesses, perhaps the Torah is teaching us the message to not submit to peer pressure and succumb to the idea that the majority is always right. Rather, when an idea is within the parameters of the Torah, a person must stand up for what they believe.

When there are three people, four, five or more, it can be easy to join the bandwagon and be a part of the group. Why remain with the minority? How can so many people be wrong? So, the Torah teaches us that sometimes, you must resist peer pressure and not follow the majority. The beliefs of two people are as justified as those of the majority, and can even offset the majority. Two witnesses are as strong as three or more. Although often majority rules, in matters of faith one’s boat can sink from the peer pressure.