Parashat Shoftim begins with the words "Judges and police at all of your gates…" (Deut. 16:18). On the words, "all of your gates", Rashi writes that this refers to every city and community. The Talmud (Nedarim 32) states that the body is also referred to as a small city. In the Tanya, it is written that just as in any city there are forces of good and evil that struggle for control, similarly in the city that is our body we have forces of good and evil.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe connects this concept to this verse. To help bring the forces of good to victory, each person has to act as both a judge and a policeman. First, as a judge, we must check out if a certain desired behavior is correct or not, according to Jewish law, and try to act accordingly. If the evil inclination does not wish to obey, we must act as a police officer forcing it to comply. "All of your gates" implies that we must guard not only those actions discussed by the Torah, but also those permissible actions that we might overdo to excess. We also derive this from The Ethics of our Fathers, "all your deeds must be for the sake of Heaven". 50 Gates of Understanding that allow the mind's comprehension to connect and affect the heart's emotions…

Also concerning the word "gates", the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that there are 50 Gates of Understanding that allow the mind's comprehension to connect and affect the heart's emotions. These 50 gates in holiness are contrasted by 50 gates of the evil "other side". Among the tasks of a person's "judges" is to truly identify when something derives from his evil inclination. There is a Chassidic saying to beware of an evil inclination dressed like a Chassid. Ignoring one mitzvah, because one is so involved in another, may be a Chassidic evil inclination. By the way, the word in Hebrew for "gate" is the same numerical value as the word for the city of "Safed".

In connection with judging ourselves, there is a story of a student that came to the famous rabbi, Rav Zalman of Masopole, to be tested on the four sections of the code of Jewish law, to complete his rabbinical ordination. After discussing a variety of issues back and forth, Rabbi Zalman was satisfied that the young man was expert in all of the required laws and primary texts. Nevertheless, before granting his approval, he asked him one more direct question. "And what of the fifth section? Are you expert in it? A rabbi of the Jewish people needs to know that as well!" The young man was mystified. "In my whole life," he said, "I have never heard of the fifth section of the code of Jewish law." Rabbi Zalman answered, "Well, you should know, there is a fifth section and it's first law is: A person has to always be ...a person."

There are endless commentaries on the verse "You should surely pursue righteousness" (in Hebrew, "tzedek tzedek teerdof" - Num.16:20). The simple question is, why is the word "tzedek" repeated? Rabbi Bunim of P'shischa writes that the verse is telling us that even the methods we use to achieve righteousness should be righteous, unlike the world that says that the end justifies the means. The Holy Jew of P'shischa says that this is an exhortation to push ahead. Even if you are already a tzaddik, "tzedek teerdof", chase kindness! Struggle to do even more kindness and justice until your last days and your last breath. Never let yourself think that you have fulfilled your obligations. …If we have G‑d, why do we need a king?

This week's parasha also includes the mitzvah "You should surely place upon yourselves a king" (Deut.17:15). If we have G‑d, why do we need a king? The inner intent of this mitzvah is ultimately to instill the Jews with a true acceptance of the Heavenly yoke. A real king, by definition, is nullified to the Divine Will. Every action he does is only a vehicle to serve the Supreme Kingship. When we the people are nullified to the king, we automatically are connecting ourselves to G‑d as well. This mitzvah is applicable in our generation also. The Talmud says, "Make a rabbi for yourself" (Avot 1). Every Jew needs to arrange a rabbi (or Jewish advisor) for him or herself who will interpret the Torah for them, as the king did during the Temple times. Life can be very confusing. Choosing a person who knows us, to help us find our way through life's subtleties, is very important. This commandment is of special importance now, as we come closer to the arrival of Mashiach, who will be both a rabbi and a king, and will teach Torah to the whole Jewish nation. The Shelah writes, that anyone who advises others is like a king. Just a king is given extra and special commandments to protect and maintain his holiness, so too anyone in a leadership position has to take special precautions to maintain a high level of holiness.

This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, is always read at the beginning of the month of Elul. One of many customs associated with this month is to hear the shofar each weekday, Elul 1-28, except Shabbat. It was on Rosh Chodesh Elul that Moses went up for the third time to Mount Sinai for forty days. At that time, a shofar was blown in the Israelite camp. This was a time of wondrous good will from Heaven. The Rabbis established the custom that each day during Elul, a shofar should be blown to remind us all to return to G‑d. "Who can hear the shofar and not tremble?" The Elul blowing should bring us to the blowing of the shofar during the High Holidays which, G‑d Willing, will be preceded by hearing the "great shofar of our freedom", accompanying the arrival of Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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