Blog Shoftim Elul 7 5779 בלוג שֹׁפְטִים, ז’ אלול, תשע”ט

This week’s parashah Shoftim (Judges) begins with Deut. 16:18 “Judges and officers shall appoint in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, tribe by tribe; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment”. I ask you to personalize this message that was given to Israel as I did with the last Parashat Re’eh. Here Moshe Rabenu is talking to us in the 2nd person singular; the Creator is speaking directly to you and me. He tells us to appoint judges and officers in our gates to be our guides. Our sages tell us that we have seven gates: two ears, two eyes, two nostrils, and one mouth. My desire is that we apply the Torah to our daily lives in a practical way. We hear, we see, we smell, and we speak. Have you ever read about someone in the news and because it is the “written word”, you believed it without question? Politics is the worst culprit when it comes to slandering people in order to discredit them. We saw this recently in the case of a judge nominated for the Supreme Court. The lies spread about him were later proved false, yet many refused to change their opinion about him. Once rumors are spread, like feathers in the wind, they are almost impossible to reverse.

We need to appoint judges and officers to protect our ears, our eyes, our nostrils and most of all, our tongue! Not everything we hear or see is as it appears to be, and the Creator is warning us to guard these seven gates. We alone are responsible for them and the best thing to do is to place the Creator as judge and officer in charge of them. We are accountable to Him. At this time of year, before the High Holidays, we need to make an account of our lives, to do teshuva, return to Him and especially to correct our wrongdoings toward others. It may be impossible to reverse all our transgressions and so we might have to suffer the consequences.

The Creator told us to choose an impartial judge, one who will not accept bribes. Have you ever prejudged someone because you were prejudiced? Have you come to a conclusion because of what you heard instead of what you know? Have you ever spread rumors that proved to be untrue? Sometimes we are duped because it is hard to discern fact from fiction. Don’t be afraid to listen and then to search out the facts before making a decision. Fanatics are blinded by lies and can no longer hear the truth. They say, “my religion is the only true religion,” but “which religion holds all truth?” In my opinion, all religions are man-made responses to their idea of who God is. We are so busy telling God who He is and what He wants from us, that we spend little time listening to Him speak to us. It is easy to be a follower instead of taking the responsibility to search the Scriptures for what they say. We do not have the right to change the Scriptures to fit our understanding. It was the Ten Commandments alone that were in the ark that traveled with the Israelites in the desert, not the 613 nor the entire Torah. Today with the enlightenment of man, we compare ourselves with the Creator, believing directly or indirectly that we are smarter than Him.

Do you allow others who have wisdom to be your mentors? Their opinion can broaden your perspective and help you make better decisions. In Deut 16:20 there is a very important phrase: “צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף tzedek, tzedek tirdof”, “justice, justice, you shall pursue”. I do not want to put our people on a pedestal, but this phrase has been ingrained in us as the people of Israel, more than any other nation. We must pursue justice even if it goes against ourselves yet most of us prefer to put up a protective front and are very quick to judge others. Our tongues speak too quickly, and we suffer the consequences. Should we put blinders on our eyes, cover our ears, put a muzzle on our mouths and a clip upon our nostrils? No, the Creator is telling us that before we do anything, we need to examine our kavanah, our intention. The term “tact” has lost meaning over time due to political correctness. Having the right to speak doesn’t give us the right to say anything we want. We need to find the right time and the right words. In this day and age where everything is permitted, we have forgotten about integrity and decency because we have made ourselves the center of the universe. This portion tells us not to bow to anyone or thing other than Him and yet we do just that.

Which of the seven gates is your downfall? Some people do not speak but don’t be fooled by their silence, they still get into trouble. Our Rabbi Yeshua tells us “do not to look at the speck in the eye of your neighbor but to remove the log from your own eye”. That’s why we need impartial judges who will listen to both sides of the story. The Torah teaches us not to be “holier than thou” since no one is better than anyone else. Psalm 139 is crucial. We need to ask the Bore Olam to search our hearts to see if there is any wicked way within us. Unless we see it and acknowledge it, we cannot change it. Then we can ask Him to help us to change our ways so that we can have a relationship with Him. That is what community is all about…to be there for each other in good and bad. As humans, we will fail but we have the “God of beginning again” who is constantly extending His arms for us to return to Him. He doesn’t punish us; we suffer the consequences of our actions because we do not follow His advice. We need to make things right first with ourselves, to forgive ourselves. He made us imperfect and gave us Free Will to be responsible for our actions. It’s a practical and simple message. With which of the seven gates are you struggling in your life? When you search, you will find. Accept the areas in your life that need improvement, ask Him for help and give Him all the glory and honor.