Judges and police you shall appoint at all of your gates. (Deut. 16:18)

Rashi explains that "all of your gates" refer to every city and community.

This verse opens the Torah Reading of Shoftim, which is always read at the beginning of the month of Elul. Elul, in turn, is the gateway to the month of Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays when we are judged for our actions of last year, and are awarded what we will receive in the coming year. How we use our time in Elul affects the extent to which our prayers will be accepted on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A gate functions as both an entrance and exit…

We live in exciting times. The whole world can be considered a "global village", and society is being tested constantly by the fall of traditional social and moral boundaries. As a result, now more than ever, every "city" needs a gateway. A gate functions as both an entrance and exit, and, if necessary, can be closed, stopping unwanted traffic. We too, when we feel inclined to think positively, speak kindly or act constructively, should open our "gates" wide. But when the impulse to think, speak, or act negatively approaches, we must slam the gates shut.

What are our "gates"? These are our eyes, which read Torah and absorb its wisdom and values; our ears, which listen to our teachers; our noses, which inhale a pure and holy atmosphere, infused with quality Judaism; and our mouths, which act as an entry for kosher food only and as an exit for kosher words.

The Talmud (Nedarim 32) describes the body as a "small city". The holy book, Tanya, expands the metaphor with a striking image: a "city" in which the opposing forces of good and evil are locked in a struggle for control. To help bring the forces of good to victory, each of us has to act as both "judge" and "policeman". As judge, we must determine if a certain desired behavior is correct according to Jewish law, and try to act accordingly. If our natural inclination does not wish to obey, we must act as a police officer and force it to comply. The emphasis "all of your gates", implies that we must guard not only against deeds forbidden by Torah, but also against permissible actions that might be indulged to excess. The '50 gates of understanding'…allow the mind's comprehension to connect to and affect the heart's emotions…

The verse speaks about appointing judges and police. The judge that decides when to open and close the gate is the intellect. The policeman that maintains order is the willpower to fulfill the judge's decision. An example of the process is eating. First, we must decide if the food is kosher. Even if it is, we must consider other factors: "Am I allowed to eat dairy now, or did I just eat meat?" "Do I really need to eat this?", etc. Even after we decide that it is permissible, we still must decide what blessing to make. The ability to choose when and how the "gate" is opened was bestowed upon us by the Almighty; it is up to us to guide our souls and bodies in the right way.

In Kabbala, "gates" can also refer to the "50 gates of understanding", which allow the mind's comprehension to connect to and affect the heart's emotions. These 50 gates in holiness are opposed by the 50 gates of the "Other Side". Among the tasks of our inner "judge" is to accurately identify whether his desire derives from his positive or negative aspect.

By the way, the Hebrew letters of the word for "gate" have the same numerical value as the letters of "Safed" (570)!

From the beginning of Elul it is already appropriate to wish everyone a good and sweet year.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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