By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis
The parsha opens with the words, “Judges and officers shall you appoint for yourselves in all of your gates.” (Deut. 16:17) There are many levels on which we can understand the passages of the Torah. A simple reading reveals that even thousands of years ago, in every hamlet, in every town, and in every city of Israel, there was a functioning judicial system. Judges–men of enormous integrity and moral excellence, who were not only knowledgeable of the laws of the Torah, but more importantly, lived by them, led the people in truth and sanctity.
“Dodge cities”, in which anarchy reigned, were never tolerated in our history. This, in and of itself, is quite remarkable when you consider the evil and corruption that was prevalent in those days, and which continues to plague us to this day. Only Divinely ordained laws could have endowed us with such a righteous judicial system as mandated in this parsha.
On yet another level, this passage can serve as a road map for personal spiritual growth. The gates at which we must place judges and officers are our personal gates through which we receive impressions and through which we impact on others. Altogether, they number seven. They include our two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and mouth. We have to place judges at these gates–meaning that we have to be judicious as to what we allow ourselves to see, hear, and say, and we have to have “officers”–strong convictions to enforce our decisions.
Of all our gates, our lips are the most powerful our sages teach that “life and death are in the tongue”. Therefore, nature has provided us with two gates to safeguard the tongue–our lips and our teeth. Before we speak, we must close those gates and consider carefully whether that which we say will be helpful or damaging. Let us remember that what we do not say, we can always say later, but that which escapes our lips, we cannot retrieve.
There is yet another interpretation of this passage. Before judging others, we should judge ourselves. People have a tendency to overlook their own foibles while demanding perfection of their fellow man. Therefore, if we place judges at our personal gates, then we will succeed in overcoming our negative traits, and that’s one of the best ways to prepare for Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
We are now in the month of Elul, which is an acronym for “Ani L`Dodi V`Dodi Li” – “I am my beloved`s and My beloved is Mine” symbolizing the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, built upon a covenant of eternal love. The month of Elul ushers in the High Holy Day season. As I have already mentioned, in preparation for these awesome days, twice daily, we recite Psalm 27, “L`Dovid HaShem Ori V`Yishi – HaShem is my light and my salvation.” My “light” refers to Rosh HaShana, and “my salvation” to Yom Kippur. The last words of the psalm are“kaveh el HaShem“- “Trust in the L-rd” (pray), strengthen your heart–meaning that even if our prayers are not initially answered, we must remain steadfast and continue to pray.
The shofar is blown from this day until Erev Rosh HaShana. The essential purpose of shofar blowing during this period is to awaken each and every one of us to the challenges of the High Holy Day season. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves through our time-tested weapons of tshuva, tefiloh and tzedukah – repentance, prayer and charity, which G-d promises will cancel all evil decrees.