Neither shalt thou favour a poor man in his cause

Shabbat Kodesh Parshat Mishpatim

The world (or the academia as well as political activists) is split over the idea of “reverse discrimination” (or affirmative action). In some places minorities are receiving preferential treatment with regard to acceptance in higher education, workplace and other opportunities available to the public. 

Now, helping the disadvantaged to improve their future is a noble idea, except of course that it causes others to be negatively impacted. If there are 50 places in next year’s medical school, and you choose to give applicants from a particular minority more places, you reduce the chances of a majority (or even other minorities) member to get in.

What does the Torah think about it?  We read a Pasuk in this week’s Parsha in which one word might give us some clue: 

וְדָ֕ל לֹ֥א תֶהְדַּ֖ר בְּרִיבֽוֹ׃

Now this is translated (and indeed, explained) in at least 3 different ways: 

Nor shall you show deference to a poor man in his dispute.

Neither shall you glorify a poor man in his lawsuit.

Neither shalt thou favour a poor man in his cause. 

Can we perhaps see in this phrase an indication that although the Torah recommends and even obligates us to help and assist the poor amidst our society in multiple ways? It (The Torah) does not support the idea of giving the poor preference in any situation in which others are going to suffer discrimination as a result of that preference. 

Warm regards and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld