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Shabbat Parashat Shoftim 5774

Parashat Hashavua: Following Our Internal Judge

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 513

“Judges and enforcement officers you shall place for you (sing.) in all your gateways” (Devarim 16:18). It is written in singular because every individual is obligated personally to place such “members of the court” in every gateway. There are indeed many gateways used for transfer of matters from one side to the other.

For example, there is the gateway of the mouth. A person needs to be his own judge to decide when to speak and when to remain silent. Sometimes he needs a policeman to make sure he does not misuse his mouth at the time of quarreling. The gateway of the ear needs a judge. When should one listen, and when should he not? When should he make use of the earlobe to block his hearing (see Ketubot 5b)? The eyes’ judge must determine when it is wrong to look away, e.g., when someone is in need (see Yeshaya 58:7), and when closing the eyes is needed to protect oneself from stimulants of improper thought (see Bamidbar 15:39).

Although there are many judges, success in this matter is still elusive. The Torah teaches that bribery blinds the eyes of a judge (Devarim 16:19), and our minds and their emissaries are influenced by all sorts of “bribes” and self-interests. Sometimes our internal judge is swayed to decide what we know deep down is wrong, and concepts get mixed up.

The Torah goes on to speak about one who is unsure what the law is on a certain matter and instructs to “go up to the place that Hashem will choose … You shall do according to what they tell you .. Do not stray from that which they tell you to the right or the left”  (ibid. 17:8-11).  Rashi cites the famous midrash: “…even if they tell you that the right is the left.” One should know that his concepts are confused. It is not the authorities who say about the right that it is the left. Since he first decided that the left is the right, when the authorities say the right is the right, he thinks the authorities are the ones who are confused.

Nowadays although we do not have a functioning kohen or Beit Hamikdash, we do have a beit midrash and bookshelves. If you see there is no judge in the places you need it – for yourself – “go up.” Open up a book of mussar that inspires fear of Hashem; read a chapter of Chovot Halevavot; delve into the Mesilat Yesharim. Then you will understand what is right and what is left. Do not deny your need for judges or for rebuke. The Torah says “you.” Everyone is responsible. “Sin is lying in wait at the opening” (Bereishit 4:7), for everyone a sin according to his level. Consider your ways and appoint the appropriate judge. Set for yourself ways to encourage you to perform a mitzva.

We are used to thinking that problems in Eretz Yisrael are the fault of the non-religious. Actually, we have neglected ourselves, from within, and have allowed ourselves to do what we want. Let us make sure, using our hearts and not just our mouths, that we have reminders not to neglect ourselves anymore. It is hard work to make internal changes in our human characteristics. Let our thoughts be focused on this goal. Then we can hope for success when Hashem makes His account of us at year’s end, which is coming up soon, and merit peace and redemption.
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