The room offers a breathtaking view of a glittering expanse of water, Governors Island, Liberty Island and other famous New York landmarks. The cast of characters is comprised of a gay transvestite whose Motorola phone intones "Droid" as an irritating and frequent occurrence, a Macy's employee who dated a Macy's security guard and thus knows exciting code words that she teaches the others, an accountant, a social worker whose son is serving hard time in jail because he murdered someone, a professor at the New School, a Marine, and several others among which can be numbered...a Hasid.
My Hasid. For the past three weeks, he's been serving as a juror on a murder trial. Only now, when the case is over and the jury has declared the defendant guilty of second-degree murder, is he permitted to talk to me about it.
It's not what most people would do two weeks before their wedding. But then, Heshy and I don't really qualify as most people. Our motto seems to be (sometimes intentionally, but most of the time without even trying), "Anything But Ordinary." We like it that way.
I found the ways in which the lawyers selected the jury to be fascinating. For one thing, they had to make sure that all ethnicities were adequately represented. They also had to ensure that the people who were chosen as jurors would be able to remain objective even if the person speaking to them were a police man or someone commonly assumed to be honest due to their position and status in society. The group was also asked whether they would be disturbed if they viewed graphic pictures that would be presented as evidence. This is aside from the common questions, such as whether they themselves had ever been victims of a crime, and if so, whether they felt that this would impair their judgment.
The case on trial was a murder-suicide with the attempted suicide having failed. Heshy and his fellow jurors had to determine whether the defendant was guilty at all and if so, whether he was guilty of manslaughter or second-degree murder. In pursuit of this, the jurors heard from many expert witnesses and psychologists, handled the evidence (including the murder weapon) and looked at pictures of the victim.
The raw emotion and reactions of the defendant and the victim's relatives were the most powerful and striking parts of the experience, Heshy said.
"What I felt was the saddest part," he explained, "was when one of the victim's close relatives took the stand. This relative was the one who had convinced the victim to date the defendant and you could see that she blamed herself for the outcome."
The question is: how to interpret this experience in light of its proximity to our wedding?
The power of judgment came home to me (and possibly to Heshy as well) because of this. Here he and the other jurors had the power to determine whether or not a man was guilty. The sentence is the judge's domain and its severity is determined by him or her. Yet without Heshy and his peers, sentencing does not even occur. Heshy was troubled by the outcome of the case. "What I could clearly see from this is that people hurt others when they themselves are in pain," he explained. The cycle upsets him because he feels that prison does not resolve the issues that lead to the crime. The defendant had had a terrible, violent, extremely abusive childhood and it followed that his pain and anger expressed itself in this awful way. Does that make him not guilty for his actions? This jury decided otherwise. But it causes the entire scene to seem more like a tragedy and less like simple justice.
This afforded me insight into God's perspective. On the day of our wedding, Heshy and I will be judged. It is our own personal Yom Kippur. God looks at us and considers us in light of our former actions and also our new ones. Have we attempted to serve Him? In what ways have we failed and in what ways have we succeeded? Unlike the jury, God does consider us in light of our childhood and where we come from. Rashi says this when he comments to Rivka and Isaac both praying for children. Rivka was the daughter of an evil person while Isaac was the child of a righteous person. Rivka was given credit for how far she had come, yet Isaac's prayers were still answered first. If God considers the families and forefathers from which we descend when it comes to our prayers, how much the more so when it comes to our behavior! There are even sins that are described as "punishment" for the children to the third and fourth generation because they are sins that are inherited from our fathers. By punishment, commentaries suggest these refer to the consequences of behaviors modeled by or inherited by the fathers, some of which becomes ingrained, but others of which the child could have chosen not to follow.
I felt that the fact that Heshy was chosen to judge a fellow human being was a prelude to us being judged ourselves. It was a demonstration. "Do you see how hard this is to do?" it seemed like God was asking. "There is so much at stake and so much to determine. And yet you only decide whether you believe a man is guilty or innocent! How much the more so when it comes to Me, who is aware of guilt and innocence, where I must determine your income, happiness and the allotment of challenges and joys that I will give you this year. And I must decide whether or not to offer you another chance when My knowledge is absolute, while yours is only predicated upon probability."
Unlike a jury, God is one solitary Mind. He will not declare a mistrial if verdicts are not unanimous. The formalities and appropriate behavior of a man aware that he stands before his judge ought to appear at the wedding as well, specifically under the chupah. For who is God if not the ultimate Decisor? And it is we who are on trial for our lives.