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 . . .
APPOINT JUDGES FOR YOURSELF IN ALL YOUR GATES
“Judges and officers, you shall appoint for yourself, in all your gates, which Hashem your G-d is giving to you, for all your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not recognize a face [in judgment], and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked." (Devarim - Deuteronomy 16:18-20)
Though these mitzvot pertain to the community and its judges, they also relate to each one of us individually for we are all judges. We discern and we judge. We support and we condemn. We judge ourselves, but mostly we judge others. It is a very human trait to discern and judge; indeed, our survival depends on our abilities to judge correctly and justly. Correct judgment is an essential skill for self-improvement.
However, we are generally poor judges. We are quite frail in our ability and resolve to stay far away from a lie and to pursue justice with justice. We are easily deceived; we bend the rules for ourselves and for those whom we recognize because we allow ourselves to be bribed, and when really corrupted, we even desire to be bribed. Bribes come in all sorts of forms and currencies; they can be vulgar or ever so subtle, physical, psychological and even spiritual.
The very same mitzvot that were given to the judges, also apply to each one of us personally. The Netivot Shalom (Devarim p. 99) brings us the following teaching from the holy gaon, Reb Chaim Vital z"l and from the holy Shal"a - The individual person is compared to a city with a number of 'gates' – passageways for information and emotions to enter and exit. There are the gates of seeing, the gates of hearing, the gates of breathingsmelling, the gate of speech and the gate of touch. Man has to appoint (make himself) a judge over all his affairs, and has to open his eyes to discern the truth. This is why the verse says, "appoint for yourself" in the singular, because the Torah is speaking to each individual of the Jewish people, instructing him/her to erect fences and appoint judges at all his/her gates.
It is taught in the holy books that each person has seven gates of the skull, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth. Concerning this the Torah says: "Judges and officers you shall appoint for yourself in all your gates", meaning that a Jew should ‘raise’ all the gates of these limbs and organs, to utilize these faculties solely to serve Hashem alone, by appointing judges and officers for yourself.
Everyone knows that the judges at the ears are there to judge whether we should listen to everything that we hear. We have to be extremely careful not to listen to 'lashon hara' evil talk. We also understand the roles of the judges at the gates of vision and the judges at the gate of the mouth. But what about the judges at the gates of the nostrils, what is their task?
Reb Shlomo zt"l once said that just like with the physical sense of smell, you know what is "cooking" without being in the kitchen, likewise if you have a well-developed spiritual sense of smell, you can already sense the coming of Moshiach.
Then Reb Shlomo zt"l said a most amazing thing: he said that when he meets a fellow Jew who is not yet observing the mitzvot, he can already scent the beautiful fragrance of this person's first Shabbos. Gevalt! We mammash need to take some time to think about the depth of this teaching.
The role of the judges at the gates of the nostrils is to be cognizant of what you smell. Concerning one's self, and concerning others, are you smelling the past, the odor left behind by the wrongdoings? Or, do you smell the fragrance of their portion in the Garden of Eden? Sometimes, before committing a transgression, our sense of smell, which is the only sense that was not implicated in the eating from the Tree of Knowledge, warns us "this does not smell good." Smell, is a sensitive instrument that we have relegated to the physical domain, and have forgotten how to use it in the spiritual domain. We have to learn how to smell the good in ourselves and in others.
The nostrils are also associated with anger. חרון אף – ‘charon af’ is translated as ‘anger’, a deep anger which is usually followed by retribution of one sort or another. Literally, ‘charon af’ would translate as, ‘anger of the nose’.
Consider the Rambam’s statement in Hilchot Deyot 2:3, The early ‘chachamim’- sages, said, “whosoever gets angry, it is as if he is worshipping like those who worship the stars.” Consider that we do not say the same about telling a lie for example, or hurting someone or stealing. What is it about anger, that led the Rabbis to compare it to idolatry? Possibly its association with the nostrils, can explain this.
Anger manifests through the breath of the nostrils, the very organ through which Hashem breathes the soul of life into man, as it says “And He breathed into his nostrils רוח חיים the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Unholy anger is a tragic abuse of the “breath of life”.
Know that there is a big difference between anger and righteous indignation. Anger, like all the other emotions, has both a positive and negative side. Anger is a very powerful energy, and when there is a need to call it up as righteous indignation that moves you to overcome evil and do good, then it is holy. However, anger at another because you feel that they didn’t give you proper respect, or because they didn’t agree with you or do as you wanted them to do, such anger is not only unholy, it is even considered idolatrous. It is all a question of how are you using the breath of life; are you appreciating life at each moment, are you appreciating its holiness? When necessary, call up your holy anger – righteous indignation, and act to make life good for the poor, for the abused, for example. Breath the gift of ‘life’ energetically and restore your family and your community to ‘good life’.
JUDGING OTHERS – WITHOUT ANGER
In a 'sicha' delivered on Rosh Chodesh Elul 5742, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l addressed himself to the Rabbis who at this time of the summer are preparing their sermons for the High Holy Days. Rabbis want to raise the levels of commitment to Hashem and Torah among the members of their communities during these Days of Awe.
This they should do, but they should do so in correct and useful ways. Hence the Rebbe admonishes as follows:
Some [rabbis] make the mistake of thinking that since during the month of Elul we are getting ready for the Days Of Awe, it is appropriate to educate their congregants with anger. They think that their anger proves that they are truly devoted to the truth and that they are expressing the real truth. They scream at the people and are not afraid of offending them, because they believe that their words are completely true and sincere! Meanwhile inside himself he is proud of himself and his ability to 'tell them off', for he is an excellent orator.
To these Rabbis the Rebbe admonishes that they should remember the principle, "the words of the wise are heard with tranquility." Without serenity and tranquility, his words are not heard and the people will eventually leave him standing all alone on his pedestal. "Even if you are not a big 'chacham' [wise one], there is no need for you to announce it from the 'Bimah', [by screaming at the people] so that all should know that you are not included amongst those concerning whom it says: The words of the wise are heard with tranquility!" Furthermore, they [the rabbis who scream at their congregants] know of their own poor levels in serving Hashem, yet they permit themselves to angrily put the people down.
We learn that Hashem was displeased to hear Isaiah express himself negatively about his people and He immediately punished him for doing so. This teaching, that Hashem does not want to hear anyone talking badly about his people is true now just as it was then, for the Torah is eternal.
Most people experience a desire to rebuke and criticize others, from time to time. And they think that this desire arises from their love for their fellow man. Thus, says the Rebbe, we need to learn from Isaiah, who truly loved his people, the consequences of expressing oneself badly about Hashem's children. That Isaiah did so, though it truly was not according to his character and stature as a true prophet of Hashem, occurred so that we should learn from him how serious a wrongdoing it is.
Especially now that we find ourselves in the month of Elul, we must be very careful about how we speak about our fellow Jews, for these are 'the days of compassion'. It was during these days that Hashem, with a joyous and complete heart, accepted Moshe's prayers, that He return to us and bring us close to Him again.
This is the time of year that according to Halacha we already bless each other to be inscribed and sealed into a good and sweet year, whose goodness will be revealed and apparent. This is the time of year that everyone can approach the King for He is in the field. And the King greets all who approach Him with a gracious and loving countenance. Especially at this time of the year we should be pointing out all the good points in our fellow Jews.
If we must rebuke, then we should do so by pointing out the great benefit and advantage of doing the mitzvot. If we must tell our friends or our children to improve in their behavior and service of Hashem, we should do so by showing them how beautiful they are and can be, by doing that which is good and righteous.
The Rebbe Reb Zusha and the Rebbe Reb Elimelech zt"l, would rebuke those who needed to hear rebuke, by rebuking themselves. Reb Zusha would go near to the person and rebuke himself saying to himself, "Zusha nebech did such and such a sin..." and he would cry over it. In this way this fellow would also be aroused to do tshuvah. And should you ask, why would Reb Zusha rebuke himself, if he was not the one to have done the transgression? We have learned, if you see a fault in another, it is a reflection of yourself.
If you want to fulfill the mitzvah of rebuking your friend (Leviticus 19:18), you must do it according to the rules of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. Rebuke must be done privately between four eyes and spoken in a tranquil manner that will be accepted.
Instead of pointing out the bad that the per