The portion of the Torah read this week begins with the commandment:

"Appoint judges and policemen in all your gates which G‑d your G‑d gives you, according to your tribes, that they may judge the people equitably." (Deut. 16:18)

Although it is not evident in modern English, the imperative "appoint" as well as the (possessive) pronouns "your" and "you" are in the singular.

Why is this commandment phrased in the singular, rather than in the plural? Every individual Jew has several gates

We heard in the name of the esteemed Rabbi Chaim Vital, of righteous memory, that this is so in order to indicate that every individual Jew has several "gates". These are: the gates of sight, the eyes; the gates of hearing, the ears; the gate of speech, the mouth; the gate of smell, the nose; the gate of touch, the hands and feet.

Just as the gate of a domain is a passageway through which one enters and exits, the "gates" of the person are his sense organs, through which stimuli enter his mind and he reacts to the outside world. The skin, here represented by the hands and feet, its principle loci of action, is in fact considered an "organ" in many biological contexts, no less than the other organs mentioned here. A person must…protect himself from looking at women forbidden to him…speaking in a foul or malicious manner…walking to commit a sexual sin…

Thus, a person must position "judges" and "policemen" at each of these "gates", in order to protect himself from looking at women forbidden to him, listening to untoward matters, speaking in a foul or malicious manner, smelling the perfume of a woman forbidden to him, touching such a woman or walking to commit a sexual sin, or walking to theatres or circuses. This is why "your gates" is phrased in the singular, in order to indicate the above.

When a person guards his "gates" from sin, it is said of him: "Open up, O gates, that a righteous nation may enter", (Isaiah 26:2) measure for measure. Furthermore, the 310 worlds destined for every righteous person will open their gates for him, for every world has its entrance gate.

[measure for measure: Meaning: the reward is of the same nature as the commandment fulfilled.]

The final section of the Mishna (Uktzin 3:12) begins: "Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: The Holy One, blessed be He, will in the future bequeath every righteous individual three hundred and ten worlds, as it is written, 'To bequeath substance to My beloved, and I will fill their storehouses.'" (Proverbs 8:21) The numerical value of the word for "substance" (yesh, yud-shin) is 310.

Know as well, that [on the path] from here to heaven there are all sorts of accusing angels and angels of destruction, and there are a number of gates to each of the seven heavens, each of which is guarded. When the soul ascends it is inspected. If it is worthy, the gates are opened for it and it is permitted to enter. If it is not, it is pushed outside, the gates are closed before it and it is not allowed to enter. For this reason, every intelligent person should take [this teaching] to heart while he is still alive and control and guard his "gates", as we said above. He will then merit to have the gates of righteousness opened before him, as we have said.

The "accusing angels" and "angels of destruction" are the corresponding elements to "judges and policemen" on the side of evil. The accusing angels tally off the individual's sins, which were brought about by not properly guarding his "gates", and the "angels of destruction" cause the ascending soul to suffer accordingly.

The seven heavens are listed in the Talmud (Chagiga 12b):






















Further on, the Torah commands:

If something be too complicated for you to judge, whether it be between two types of blood, or two different cases, or types of plague, or an argument in your gates, go up to the place that G‑d your G‑d will choose. (Deut. 17:8)

The "place that G‑d will choose" refers to the site of the Temple in Jerusalem, where the high court, the Sanhedrin, met. They are the final judicial authority of the Torah.

According to our sages, this verse alludes to an exchange between the Ministering Angels and the Holy One, blessed be He, when the Temple was being destroyed. The commandments of the Torah are a description of the ways, customs, or behavior of G‑d…

The following exchange is based on the idea that "He declares His words to Jacob, His judgments to Israel," i.e. that the commandments of the Torah are a description of the ways, customs, or behavior of G‑d. In some abstract or spiritual way, He Himself performs all the commandments in the Torah and commands us to do the same, simply in order that we emulate Him. When the Temple was destroyed, according to the accusations of the angels in this exchange, G‑d transgressed a number of His own commandments, so to speak.

[The Angels began:] "Master of the World, You wrote in Your Torah:

…when you shed its blood, you must cover [the blood] with dirt. (Lev. 17:13)

In this case, however, it is written: O G‑d, nations have come into Your inheritance, They have defiled Your holy Temple, They have laid Jerusalem in heaps. They have given the dead bodies of Your servants to be food to the birds of the sky, The flesh of Your pious ones to the beasts of the earth. They have shed their blood like water around Jerusalem, And there was no one to bury them. (Psalms 79:3)

For the blood she shed is still in her; She set it upon a bare rock; She did not pour it out on the ground to cover it with earth. (Ezekiel 24:7)

You wrote in Your Torah: You shall not slaughter [an animal] and its young on the same day. (Lev. 22:28)

In this case, however, it is written: Mothers and babes were dashed to death together.

You wrote in Your Torah: And the priest shall command that they empty out the house… (Lev. 14:36)

In this case, however, it is written: They burned the House of G‑d and tore down the wall of Jerusalem, burned down all its mansions, and consigned all its precious objects to destruction." (Chronicles II 36:19)

G‑d answered them: "Is there any peace in the world, then? Since there is no peace, there is nothing."

[Mothers and babes: The verse quoted here is the one used in the Midrashic passages on which this citation is based.]

[consigned…to destruction: When a house is about to be declared defiled by reason of a plague having attacked its walls, the officiating priest is required to direct those present to first empty the house of all its movable items. This is in order that they not fall under the same declaration of impurity as the house he is about to sentence, for if they would, it would be necessary to purify them or destroy them (if they could not be purified, as is the case with earthenware vessels). We see from this law that G‑d is concerned with not causing unnecessary monetary loss to any Jew.] Peace is the vessel for all blessing…

It is stated in the Mishna that peace is the vessel for all blessing, meaning that without peace, there is no point in G‑d bestowing His blessing on the world, for inasmuch as there is no vessel to contain it, it will just dissipate. We are taught specifically that it was the Second Temple that was destroyed on account of the causeless hatred amongst the Jewish people (whereas the first Temple was destroyed on account of other sins), yet the verses quoted all refer to the destruction of the First Temple (which occurred during Biblical times, while that of the Second Temple was post-Biblical). However, the same sorts of suffering occurred in the second destruction, and there is also no reason to assume that the verses referring to the first destruction do not refer prophetically to the second destruction as well.

All this is alluded to in the verse quoted above, as follows:

"If something be too complicated for you to judge, whether it be between two types of blood" - this refers to the angels' query regarding why G‑d did not follow His own law regarding shedding blood [and did not cover the blood with dirt]. Jerusalem is the city that is altogether united

"…or two different cases…" - this refers to the angels' query regarding why G‑d did not follow His own law regarding not slaughtering an animal and its young on the same day.

"…or types of plague…" - this refers to the angels' query regarding why G‑d did not follow His own law regarding saving property and possessions.

The answer to the angels is alluded to in the next phrase:

"…an argument in your gates…" - arguments and lack of peace bring all this about.

The verse then concludes:

"…go up to the place that G‑d your G‑d will choose" - for Jerusalem is "the city that is altogether united" (Psalms 122:3); in it all become friends.

Jerusalem existed before the Temples were destroyed, of course, so what is meant here is obviously more than a physical ascent to the physical city of Jerusalem. Rather, what is meant is an ascent to the ideals embodied in the idealized vision of Jerusalem as the center of the Torah and Divine revelation on earth. This is embodied in the name "Jerusalem", which means "total awe" ("Yerushalayim" - "yira-shalem"), or absolute awareness of being in the presence of G‑d.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaMitzvot and Taamei HaMitzvot, parashat Shoftim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

"Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc."