“You shall appoint judges and police in all of your gates, and they will judge the people a righteous judgment.”
Our parashah begins with instructions to the people of Israel to set up a judicial system in all their cities and with an admonition to judges to judge their cases fairly. Our Sages teach that all the Torah portions that we read in the days between Rosh Chodesh Elul and Yom Kippur contain allusions to the battle with the yetzer hara, the teshuvah process and character improvement — all the elements necessary for a successful trial on Rosh Hashanah.
The Kli Yakar points out that the verse says: “You shall appoint judges for yourself [lecha]” — indicating that one should judge oneself before pointing a finger at others. Check your character and behavior, fix your faults and only then can you judge others fairly. “Appoint judges for yourself” and then you will certainly “judge the people a fair judgment.”
Others say that the word “lecha — for you” advises one to treat others as they would treat themselves. One should not be strict with others and lenient when it comes to oneself.
A Rabbi was at home searching through several halachah sefarim when his colleague dropped by to visit.
“You look very engrossed and perplexed,” the visitor said.
“I wanted to play chess, but didn’t know if it is permitted to play on Shabbat. I’ve spent the better part of an afternoon looking for an answer,” the Rabbi said.
“If I were you I would ask someone else,” his friend suggested.
“Why is that?” the Rabbi said.
“I think that if you are the one who wants to play, you will find a way that allows it,” his friend said politely. “It’s probably best that another give a ruling for your question.”
Rabbi Simchah Bunim from Peshis’cha says that when one is constantly evaluating one’s own behavior and realizes that one is not perfect, then it will certainly lead one to see the strong points in someone else. In other words, the verse is telling us that when you “appoint judges for yourself’’ then certainly you will “judge the people fairly.”
The Shelah Hakadosh sees in this instruction a command to control what goes in and out of your “gates.” A person’s “gates” are the eyes, ears, mouth and nose. To reach spiritual perfection, one must set judges and policemen at all of the gates. Should we all exercise caution and monitor carefully what goes in and out of our physical “gates” — what we look at, what we say and what we listen to — then we can all be assured of “righteous judgment” on that crucial day of Rosh Hashanah.
May we all take advantage of this special period of grace and favor called Elul and concentrate on self-improvement and forgiveness so that Hashem will only see good when He judges every individual, every community and every country on this Rosh Hashanah for life filled with blessing and happiness. Amen.
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute with Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.