“You shall appoint judges and police in all of your gates, and they will judge the people a righteous judgment” (Devarim 17:18).
Our parashah begins with instructions to the People of Israel to set up a judicial system in all of their cities and with an admonition to judges to judge their cases fairly. Our Sages teach that all the Torah portions we read in the days between Rosh Chodesh Elul and Yom Kippur contain allusions to the battle with the evil inclination, the teshuvah process and character improvement — all the elements necessary for a successful outcome in the trial each will undergo on Rosh Hashanah.
The Kli Yakar points out that the verse, “You shall appoint judges for yourself (lecha)” indicates that one should judge himself or herself before pointing a finger at others. When a person feels guilt, it is an indication that something wrong must have been done. The natural psychological defense system turns a person’s focus outward towards other people or extenuating circumstances. The word “lecha” is a hint meant to redirect a person’s stare inward rather than out.
Although the natural response is to look out the window, one is better served by looking in the mirror. 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 us to treat others as we would treat ourselves. We should not be strict with others and lenient when it comes to ourselves. Rabbi Simchah Bunim from Peshischa says that when we are constantly evaluating our own behavior and we realize that we are not perfect, then it will certainly lead us to see the strong points in someone else. In other words, the verse is telling us that when we “appoint judges for yourself,” we will realize that even we are not perfect; therefore, we will certainly “judge the people fairly.”
The Shelah Hakadosh sees in this instruction a command to control what goes in and out of our “gates.” The gates of a human being are a person’s eyes, ears, mouth and nose. Entry and exit are made through these openings. Ideas, foods, sights and sounds that can build or damage our spirituality use these gates for access. To reach spiritual perfection, we must set judges and policemen at all of these gates. Should we all exercise caution and monitor carefully what goes in and out of our physical “gates” — i.e., 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 G-d will also only see good when He judges every individual, every community and every country on this Rosh Hashanah. May He judge all for a life filled with blessing and happiness. Amen.