"You shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers in all your cities that G‑d has given to your tribes for an inheritance, and they shall judge the people with honest justice." (Deut. 17:18)

"Go to the ant, you lazy one, consider her ways and become wise. She has no ruler or overseer, yet she prepares her sustenance in the summer; gathering in her food during the harvest." (Proverbs 6:6-8)

What did King Solomon (the author of Proverbs) observe in the ant that he thought we could learn from? The ant has a three story house, yet she doesn't go into the upper story since it may leak. She doesn't go into the lower story since it is cold and damp. She lives only in the middle story. Her life span is only six months. Why is it that a creature that has no bones or muscles should live only six months? In her entire life she manages to eat only one or two grains of wheat. Yet all summer long she collects grains of wheat, barley and lentils, and stores them away in her house. The ant…is very strict concerning theft…

Rabbi Tanchuma asked, "If the ant needs only one or two grains of wheat for her food and lives for only six months, why does she go through the trouble to store away food? It is because she thinks to herself, 'Perhaps G‑d will decree for me a longer life. Then my food will be prepared.'"

What did King Solomon infer that we should consider her ways and become wise? The Rabbis pointed out one of the ant's special qualities: she is very strict concerning theft. Rabbi Shimon bar Chalafta once saw that an ant dropped a grain of wheat and all the other ants came and smelled it (to see if it was theirs), but not one of them took it. They waited for the ant who dropped the grain to come and retrieve it.

A verse can help us explain the ant's incredible behavior. "Only this have I found, that G‑d has made the man upright, but they have made many inventions." (Ecclesiastes 7:29)

"Upright" is an allusion to the quality of tiferet. Tiferet itself corresponds to the patriarch Jacob, who represents the middle path, or perfect way. The world could not have been sustained with only Abraham's chesed or with Isaac's gevura. Tiferet is the fusion between them; it doesn't tend towards either of the two extremes. Rather, tiferet is a compound composed of both chesed and gevura, yet having a new and distinct identity. Extremes are obstacles in the path to repentance…

Therefore it is written, "G‑d has made the man upright…". A person should endeavor to follow the middle path. On one hand one must not be too haughty, lauding oneself for one's Torah and good deeds. On the other hand, one must not be too humble or unpretentious, looking down on oneself in disdain until one succumbs to bitterness in despair of one's self worth and worth to the world. Both extremes are obstacles in the path to repentance.

One ought to adopt the middle path. That is, one must know that a human is indeed a lowly creature, barely in control of his desires, yet concurrently in possession of an inner jewel, a spark of G‑dliness: a divine soul that inspires one to engage in G‑d. There is always a spark of the divine soul in every Jew which can never be extinguished…

There is always a spark of the divine soul in every Jew which can never be extinguished. That spark can consume all the foolishness and idle thought which confuse a person, and lead him on a straight path to closeness with G‑d.

One is advised to always take the upright, middle path - the path of the Torah. A triangle, or any item which is threefold, is inherently stable because of its third side. This side keeps the structure from tipping over or leaning to the right or to the left. The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) says regarding the giving of the Torah, "Blessed is the Merciful One who gave us a threefold Torah [Torah, Prophets and Writings], to the threefold people, [Cohen, Levi and Yisrael], by way of the threefold family [Moses, Aaron and Miriam] on the third day [of separation and purity], and in the third month [Sivan, third month from Nissan]. This threefold quality represents the stability and eternal nature of the Jewish people.

This brings us back to our little ant to whom we are looking for wisdom. She too understands the secret of three, for she builds herself a three story house. Yet she lives only in the middle one. The top story is too hot and it leaks. The bottom story is too cold and damp. The middle story is the perfect climate, a fusion of the two extremes. The same is true for us. We should avoid the upper story, representative of haughtiness. Nor should we inhabit the bottom story, which represents extreme humility that leads to despair. Rather, our place is in the middle.

With all of her planning and wisdom, the little ant's life span is only six months! She has no bones or muscles. The bones and muscles correspond to the 365 negative mitzvot and the 248 positive mitzvot. The ant is not commanded concerning any of the mitzvot; therefore she has no "bones and muscles". She needs to eat only one or two grains of wheat in her whole life and in the summer, she stores all that she can find. Why does she go through all this trouble for a six month life span? Because perhaps G‑d will reverse nature and grant her a longer life! Then her food will have been prepared. The faith that G‑d is the true source of all life can sustain and nourish a Jew for a lifetime…

Therefore King Solomon said, "Go to the ant, lazy one, consider her ways and become wise". Prepare yourself, store up your mitzvot and good deeds in this world so you will have them in the World-to-Come. The ant, who has no "bones and muscles", no mitzvot and good deeds to take to the World-to-Come, nevertheless with her faith that maybe G‑d will grant her a longer life, endeavors to save up for the world-to-come. Even when one has no Torah and no mitzvot, the faith that G‑d is the true source of all life can sustain and nourish a Jew for a lifetime.

The ant, although she has no ruler and no officers over her, will not resort to the use of unjust or illegal means to attain her goal. Even more so, we, who are commanded to appoint judges and officers to instruct us, need to be vigilant in the face of the temptation to steal or bend the law.

Thus the ant. She has no real hope for the future, no Torah and no good deeds, nevertheless she puts away her grain in the middle story of the house she has built. All the more so us, for whom the median, perfect path of return to G‑d is always prepared.

G‑d decreed that repentance always helps. The Jerusalem Talmud states, "They asked Wisdom: 'What is the punishment for the one who transgresses?' Answered Wisdom: 'The Soul that sins shall die.' (Ezekiel 18:4) They then asked the Holy One Blessed Be He: 'What is the punishment for the one who transgresses?' Answered He, 'Let him return in repentance!' (Makkot 2:6) It might not occur to one to return to G‑d, yet G‑d wants it to be known that there is a unique institution called repentance (teshuvah) and it works!

"The tzadikim are governed by the Positive Inclination, the wicked are governed by the Evil Inclination. The Benonim, those in between, are governed by both." (Berachot 61b) One's daat (conscience) is called a "judge"or "governor". A person uses his daat to weigh out every action. Is it or is it not proper?

Tzadikim are totally consumed by their passion for serving G‑d, learning His Torah, performing His commandments and loving their fellow Jews. Their entire bodies, all their bones and muscles are dedicated to this purpose, and they are therefore never satisfied with their level of divine service. They constantly endeavor to improve and refine it. The wicked are the opposite: they never really consider that their crooked ways have a hold on them, and they always imagine themselves to be tzadikim.

The Benonim are judged by both. Sometimes the Positive Inclination is in control and they are able to make an honest spiritual accounting. Sometimes the Evil Inclination is in control, telling them that everything is all right and they are really complete Tzadikim.

We are the Benonim. "We are not so impudent and obstinate to declare before You that we are Tzadikim and have not sinned. Indeed we and our ancestors have sinned." (Morning Confession/ Tachanun service) We have done good and we have done the opposite. Nevertheless, G‑d is compassionate and merciful, and he leaves the door open for those who will return. May we use these days of the month of Elul to improve our divine service and to do complete and heartfelt repentance.

[Source: www.nishmas.org
Based on Yismach Yisrael by Rabbi Yerachmiel Yisrael Yitzchak of Alexander, Shoftim #4; www.nishmas.org]