Today’s daf (Ketubot 100a) discusses the situation when a Beit Din makes an error in terms of the amount of money or land that it awards an orphan from their parents’ estate. In such a case we are taught that יכולים למחות – they may protest and challenge this ruling which must then be re-evaluated. What this tells us is that the pursuit of what is justly yours is entirely appropriate, and the challenging of a judgement when it seems that an error has been made is certainly justified.
Unfortunately, there are those who misrepresent Jewish law and Jewish values who, oftentimes drawing from shallow readings of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) which we will be reading this Shabbat, would claim that those who seek to get what is monetarily theirs are, in fact, driven by their love and pursuit of money.
However, as our commentaries on Kohelet explain, there is a big difference between those who pursue money for the sake of money, and those who pursue justice which involves getting their money’s worth or reclaiming what others have unjustly taken from them.
To be clear, all that I have said until now relates to errors that have been made in a judgement. But it is important to note that this principle applies even more forcefully when dealing with those who intentionally dishonest. As Rabbi Gil Student explains in his essay ‘There is no Mitzvah to be a Freier’ (which is Yiddish for ‘sucker’), ‘Jewish law allows for self defense in many different ways, including financially’, ‘there is no mitzvah to be taken advantage of by dishonest people’, and quoting from a responsum of Rav Asher Weiss (Minchat Asher 2:112), “the rules of justice and morality do not require someone affronted to quietly accept someone else’s trickery”.
Ultimately, while it is true that “whoever loves money will never be satisfied with their money” (Kohelet 5:9), what we can extrapolate from today’s daf is that “if you see oppression of a poor person or any perversion of law and justice in the province, do not wonder at the fact, for every watchman has a watchman over him, and there are higher ones yet above” (Kohelet 5:7), then you can, and should, do what you can to redress this error, and if you have been tricked by those who are dishonest, you can, and should, do what you can to defend yourself.