Food For the Soul
Here Comes The Judge
Don’t be judgmental. Unless, of course, you happen to be a judge. Then it’s your job. The Parshah, Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9), begins with the biblical command for judges to be appointed in every city and town to adjudicate and maintain a just, ordered, civil society. Interestingly, it occurs in the first week of Elul, the month in which we are to prepare in earnest for the Days of Judgment ahead, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
There are, however, some significant differences between earthly judges of flesh and blood and the heavenly judge. In the earthly court, if after a fair trial a defendant is found guilty, then there’s really not much room for clemency on the part of the judge. The law is the law and must take its course. The accused may shed rivers of tears, but no human judge can be certain if his remorse is genuine. The Supreme Judge, however, does know whether the accused genuinely regrets his actions or is merely putting on an act. Therefore, He alone is able to forgive. That is why in heavenly judgments, teshuvah (repentance) is effective.
The Maharal of Prague gave another reason. Only G-d is able to judge the whole person. Every one of us has good and bad to some extent. Even those who have sinned may have many other good deeds that outweigh the bad ones. Perhaps even one good deed was of such major significance that it alone could serve as a weighty counterbalance. The point is, only G-d knows. Only He can judge the individual in the context of his whole life and all his deeds, good and bad.
Our goal is to emulate the heavenly court. We should try to look at the totality of the person. You think he is bad, but is he all bad? Does he have no redeeming virtues? Surely, he must have some good in him as well. Look at the whole person.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
As the last month of the Jewish year, Elul is traditionally a time of introspection and stocktaking — a time to review one’s deeds and spiritual progress over the past year and prepare for the upcoming “Days of Awe” of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
As the month of Divine Mercy and Forgiveness it is a most opportune time for teshuvah (“return” to G-d), prayer, charity and increased Ahavat Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew) in the quest for self-improvement and coming closer to G-d. Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi likens the month of Elul to a time when “the king is in the field” and, in contrast to when he is in the royal palace, “everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him, and he receives them all with a cheerful countenance and shows a smiling face to them all.”
For specific Elul customs visit Chabad.org
Mind Over Matter
The Four Gates of the City
Appoint judges and officers in all your cities. (Deuteronomy 16:18)
Her husband is known in the gates. (Proverbs 31:23)
The Zohar explains:
You are a city. You are the master of four gates that enter your city: the Gate of Vision, the Gate of Listening, the Gate of Imagining and the Gate of Speaking. The husband is the Infinite G-d, and although He is infinite, He can be known to each of us if we will only clear the gateways for Him to enter.
That is why all the world competes to storm those gates. They want you to see the ugliness they see, hear the cacophony they hear, imagine the nonsense they imagine and speak without end. They want to be the voting citizens of your city. And then, you will desire all they desire. You will know only whatever they wish to know. No room will be left in your city for anything but them. That is why you must remain the master of those gates, so that wisdom will flow through them. Endless wisdom.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Counselors not Officers
Of the era of the redemption it is said: “I shall restore your judges as at first, and your counselors as at the beginning” (Isaiah 1:26). This verse mentions “judges” but not “officers.” Instead of “officers” there will be “counselors.” The task of the counselors is to explain and clarify to litigants the words and decisions of the judge so that they will understand and realize how those decisions are in the peoples’ best interest and for their own benefit. Thus the people themselves will want to follow the court’s judgments. It follows, then, that in the Messianic era there will no longer be a need for officers to enforce the law, for all shall willingly live up to their obligations.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Are You Objective?
There was once a king who was very fond of target shooting. He practiced daily and arranged competitions. With time he felt that he had gotten pretty good at the sport, yet he continued trying to improve. One day, as he was traveling through the countryside, the king noticed several target boards near a small peasant hut. Looking closely, he was astonished to see that every one of the many darts on the boards was precisely in the center! This simple peasant was apparently an expert; he had hit a bull’s-eye with every try!
Curious to learn how the man had done it, the king knocked on the door of the hut. The peasant who answered laughed heartily at the the king’s question. “Why, it’s very simple,” he replied naively. “Instead of drawing the target and aiming towards it, I throw the darts, and then draw the circles around them. It works every time . . .”
The Parsha Shoftim includes a prohibition for judges to take bribes. The Torah then explains the reason for this commandment: “For bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.” Now, you’re probably thinking, “No kidding, that’s the definition of a bribe! What kind of reason is that?”
Good point. But, actually, the Torah is not trying to explain what’s wrong with paying off a judge; it’s obvious that corrupting fair judgment is immoral. Rather, the Torah seeks to clarify a fact. Often, people say, “I can be objective in this case, despite my connection to it.” Recognizing the difficulty of proper judgment when personal concerns are involved, we may nonetheless convince ourselves that we are immune to bribery, intellectually and emotionally capable of separating fact from feeling.
Yet the Torah cautions us that the danger of bribery is not merely a possibility, nor even a probability. It is an automatic effect. Bribery—monetary or otherwise—skews one’s perception, literally “blinding” him to reality. No one is immune.
We are all judges, all of the time. There are important decisions to be made constantly, and these require clear thinking and examination of facts. Often we may be swayed by bribes—personal concerns, interests and feelings. We may have the best of intentions, yet the possibility of a purely objective decision is technically out of our reach, “for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.”
For this reason, it is crucial that every one of us have a mentor, an objective individual upon whom we rely to help us make decisions. Before signing on the dotted line, run it by someone out of the picture. It’s a sort of reality check, a way to make sure that we are aiming towards the target, rather than adjusting the goal to suit us.
Rabbi Mendy Wolf