Parsha Shoftim and Elul
Reb Shlomo Carlebach On Parshat Shoftim
Shoftim Vshotrim Titen Lecho Bchol Sheorechu (The torah commands us to put Judges and guards at the entrance to all of our gates.)
The Shelah HaKaddosh, The Holy Shelah, explains that the gates we are talking about this week, are the seven gates we all have, Two eyes, nostrils, ears and one mouth, when we know how to guard them, keeping away from hearing, seeing and talking bad on one another, so listen to me my sweetest friends, the Torah calls it Shaar a “gate”, the deepest depth is that they open for us all the gates of heaven, Hashem wants to give us so much we just have to take care of the gates, like in jewllery shop they have the doors, they only open the inside door when the outside door is secured, when we talk and hear only good on one another, The Ribono shel Olam is mamesh opening all the gates of heaven for us, I bless you and me, when Hashem opens gates, we should take advantage of it. And even more so, I bless you and me we should open gates for each other
Elul – Opening the Gates
Every time I do a mitzva every time I do something good, G-d opens the gates for me to do another mitzva. Why don’t’ I go in? I never do. The Tanach writes that wicked people are always walking around, always circling, never going in. On the first Shabbos of Elul we always read Shoftim. "Appoint judges and officers in all your gates." What is Elul all about? Doing good. G-d is opening all of the gates.
I want you to know that the Tshuva of Elul is not Tshuva for sins. That is for the ten days between Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur. In Elul the important thing is, I am doing Tshuva for all the gates that were open to me and that I didn’t enter.
Let me say something very deep. Can you image what kind of gate G-d opened to us on Mt Sinai? The deepest gate in the world. The gate was so wide open, the Gemora says, that there was no longer any death in the world. We could have gone straight into Eretz Yisroel. We could have fixed the entire world. But instead what did we do? We made the Golden Calf. We said to G-d, we are not interested in Your gates. Gevald! How could we do that? How could we do that to G-d? So Moshe had to go again to Mt Sinai to re-open all the gates.
In former good days, every city was closed with gates. When they were opened, they blew the shofar. In Elul we blow the shofar to let the world know, to let ourselves know, G-d is opening all the gates, G-d is re-opening all the gates. And we are saying "Appoint judges and officers in all your gates which G-d gave you.
אני לדודי ודודי לי
“I AM UNTO MY BELOVED AND MY BELOVED IS UNTO ME.” Song of Songs 6:3.
Reb Shlomo Slichot
THE KING IS IN THE FIELD
The holy Bal Shem Tov taught that during the month of Elul, the KING IS IN THE FIELD. Every one of us can approach Hashem, directly, informally. We don't need to pass through guarded gates and chambers of inquiry and examination, in order to get to the King. The King is in the field! When you approach "the King" in the field, you approach Hashem, as Hashem whom you, the real inner you, relates to.
Relationships [of all kinds] and behaviors are very much determined and affected by formality and structure [which to be sure are also very important]. However, during the month of Ellul, we are not approaching Hashem through the veils of formality, in which one can hide from one’s inner self. The palace, the guards, the entourage, the grandeur are not there to give definition to your belief in Hashem, and to your relationship with Hashem.
The King is completely approachable; you can discover what Hashem
really means to you, in your insides, in your ‘kishkes’. Hashem is in the field to meet you, the real you, to relate to you in the deepest way. He welcomes your greeting with a cheerful face. It is from this friendly deep encounter that you receive the encouragement and the strength, the arousal and the love to do the fixing of your inner-self.
Hashem comes out into the field and is so to speak letting us know "Rachmana leeba ba'ee"-- the compassionate One desires the heart! Hashem is longing for a deep personal and intimate connection with us.
What does it mean that Hashem is our King? What is the positive aspect of ‘kingship’? Unfortunately, because of a lengthy history of evil and abusive kings, many of us have a hard time with the title ‘king’.
Reb Shlomo zt”l explained: You know what a king is? You know what it means that Hashem is my King? . . . It means I am waiting every second for G-d to enlighten me. Nobody and nothing in the world can tell me what to do. After the king [Hashem] is appointed by choice, I can say, "Hashem Malkeinu, Hashem our King, I’m begging you, let Yiddishkeit shine so deep [into me] that I’m free to do what the depths of my heart wants." I stand before G-d and I say, "Ribbono Shel Olam, by my choice I want to be Your true servant."
In the glossary of Rav Steinsaltz’s “Opening the Tanya” it explains malkhut as follows: “Malkhut” (“kingship” or “the word of G-d in His kingship) The 10th and lowest of the sefirot. The sefirah of malkhut of Atzilut is the attribute by which G-d expresses and exercises His Kingship ovber the lower worlds.
Just as a Jewish king should be completely subservient to G-d, even as he riules over his subjects from a position of superiority, the attribute of malkhut of Atzilut is completely subservient to the higher sefirot, adding nothing of its own to the divine energy it receives from them. At the same time, when G-d uses the attribute of malkhut to give existence and life to the lower worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, He maintains a “distance” from them, which allows the beings of the lower worlds to perceive their own existence as separate from G-d. (Rav Steinsaltz, Opening the Tanya, p.313-314)
When we say “Blessed are You Hashem our G-d, melech ha’olam - King of the universe” we recognize that it is this attribute of malkhut with which Hashem ‘distances’ Himself from us, that allows us to be the unique individuals that we are. In this way Hashem allows to grow and develop with free choice. With His Torah and mitzvot we have the opportunity to manifest ourselves to be the highest and most beautiful people that Hashem dreamt of, when He dreamt of us before Creation of the world
We are בני מלכים - the children of Hashem’s kingship; we too possess some degree of royalty and we too are expected to act with royalty. Just like Hashem believes in us and in our ability to manifest our beautiful highest selves; just like He focuses on the good in us, so too, as royalty, we are to look at the good in another, we are to help and encourage our brothers and sisters to achieve their best. And as Rebbe Nachman and the Rebbe zt”l taught this is achieved mostly by focusing on their good points. In this context take note of Shammai’s words in Pirkei Avot:
Shammai said: Set a fixed time for your study of Torah; say little and do much; and receive every person with a cheerful countenance. (Avot 1:15)
May we be blessed to exercise our royalty properly in the holiest of ways.
MAKING HASHEM THE REALITY OF YOUR LIFE
The command to appoint judges and officers applies to us both as a community and as individuals.
JUDGES AND OFFICERS, YOU SHALL APPOINT FOR YOURSELF, IN ALL YOUR GATES… (16:18)
The holy Yid from Pshischa asks, why does the Torah say "appoint for yourself, and why does say in all your gates? He explained with the teaching from the holy Zohar that says, every Jew must be a master of of accounting.
"appoint for yourself - Each night before going to sleep we are to do a personal accounting of all that we did during the day, the good and the bad. Before judging anyone else we need to judge our own selves. But when it comes to judging another, remember the teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachya הוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות - judge each person favorably [Pirkei Avot 1:6].
in all your gates - Evaluate yourself properly, regardless of whatever 'gate in life' you may be at. Do not use your 'gate' as an excuse for not living up to your highest self. Whatever station or gate i am at, that is exactly the place from which i need to proceed and go higher.
And should you be in a position of leadership and authority, large or small remember the following aphorism:
(קשוט עצמך ואחר כך קשוט אחרים (ב"ב ס:ב First adorn yourself and then adorn others --- before you rebuke anyone else, make sure that you take care of your own blemishes first.
The Baal Shem Tov interpreted this verse as follows: The ‘judges and officers’ refer to "Ahavah and Yirah" – love and fear of Hashem. ‘In all your gates’ refers to all your thoughts. I.e., appoint judges and officers to ensure that your thoughts are guided by your love and fear of Hashem.
[‘Sha-arecha’ is the Hebrew word for 'your gates’. ‘Shaar’ is a gate. ‘L-sha-eir’ also means to estimate and evaluate – hence ‘sha-arecha’ – your gates, is further extended to mean your thoughts and considerations.]
This then is the deeper meaning of the verse "Her husband is well-known at the gates, as he sits with the elders of the land." (Proverbs 31.) (found in the Eishet Chayil [Woman of Valor] song that we sing on Friday nights at the Shabbos table before Kiddush.) The "Woman of Valor" is 'knesses Yisrael' – the community of souls of Israel, and "Her husband" refers to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, The Holy One Blessed Be He; He is well-known at the gates, meaning that Hashem is recognizable in the way she- [the souls of Israel] evaluates and makes decisions. In all her decision making it is apparent that her vision of Hashem guides her footsteps. G-d is the evident reality in her life.
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MASTERING YOUR THOUGHTS
Rebbe Nachman zt"l taught the human mind is like a horse that moves in whichever direction you pull the reins. Often we think that we don’t have control over our thoughts, as if our minds have minds of their own. However, this is not so.
Learning to meditate is to learn how to master one’s thoughts – to think about what we want to think about and to think in ways that we want to think. Love and fear are the two primary motivators of all human behavior. Our thoughts can and should be determined by our love and fear of Hashem.
POLICE NOW AND THEN
Our holy Torah is eternal. That being true, we understand that when the Torah says, "Shoftim v'shotrim titein l'cha … appoint for yourselves judges and police officers" we will do so even after the arrival of Moshiach. The question is asked, why would we need "shotrim" – police officers, in the times of the ultimate redemption?
Reb Shlomo zt"l answered as follows: What's the difference between a police officer now and then? Today police officers look for the bad in people. If someone breaks the law, the police come after him. But in Moshiach's times we won't be committing crimes, so what will be the role of the police? Reb Shlomo explained that if a teacher will learn Torah with children and not show them the greatest of love; if friends will not be best friends, if parents won't be showing utmost love to their children, the the police will come and ask "what's wrong brother, how can we help you be your best?"
RESTORE OUR JUDGES
In the daily 'Amiddah' prayer which we recite three times a day, we ask of Hashem:
"Restore our judges as in former times, and our counselors as of yore; remove from us sorrow and sighing; and reign over us, You alone, O Lord, with kindness and compassion, with righteousness and justice. Blessed are You Hashem, King who loves righteousness and justice."
"Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: The world endures by virtue of three things- justice, truth and peace, as it is stated: "Administer truth and the judgment of peace in your gates."" (Zechariah 8:16)
We need real judges who are ready to guide us truthfully. We are full of sorrow and sighing. We read the newspapers and we sigh (sincerely? politely?) as another crime and another have been committed. We sigh (a sigh of relief) over small reductions in the crime rate, as if it is okay to live with a 'respectable' crime rate.
In a 'sicha'-talk that the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave in 1954 he admonished his Chassidim against having televisions in our homes. He warned against the corruption of our values that would be wrought upon us by TV and focusing on evil- by watching 'murders' and violence on the screen. Back then we were seduced into thinking that we must have televisions. Back then we watched Howdy Doody and Mickey Mouse, the News and Ed Sullivan; but what are we watching today? The Rebbe had great foresight, as we all now realize. And so . . .