Torah thought forFriday 6 Elul 5782 September 2 2022

Parashat Shofetim - Our Internal Policeman Should Monitor Our Conduct

(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

It states in this week’s Parashah, “Appoint for you [in the singular] judges and police for all your tribes in all your settlements” (Devarim 16:18).

Our chachamim analysed this passuk and said that one would have expected the passuk to state, “Appoint for you [in the plural] judges and police for all your tribes in all your settlements”, using the Hebrew word “you” in the plural and not in the singular as stated because this obligation is incumbent upon the congregation. If so, why is this mitzvah stated in the singular?

Our chachamim explained, that the passuk intends to indicate that every single person is obligated to examine his soul as best as he is able. To judge himself and his actions as to whether every mitzvah that he performs is correct according to halachah based in what has been ruled in the Shulchan Aruch. Or whether his mitzvot and other actions just have the “value” like those performed by most people that they fulfil part of the mitzvot like those who have become used to “fulfilling their mitzvot by wrote”. Purely out of habit, with no thought about the root of the mitzvah, its purpose, Who commanded it and how He commanded its observance.

For example, when fulfilling the mitzvah of the etrog, many people have no idea about the mitzvah [when they purchase it]. They observe it purely from the perspective that they must purchase an etrog and they don’t know whether or not the etrog is grafted. Or whether it is unfit for use due to having a hole in it or something similar which would invalidate it.  They also don’t know in which hand to take the lulav. They simply look in the Bet Kenesset at the other people around them to see how they all do it. A person who follows this path has no judge over himself who will guide him to fulfil the mitzvot correctly. This is what is meant in the passuk, “you shall appoint for you [in the singular] judges”. “Judges”, are the chachamim, who lead the people how to live.

And when it states, “Appoint for yourselves [in the singular] police”, this is the policeman that a person must appoint over himself who will caution him not to do things that are against Hashem’s will. That he not offend another, he must not take that which is not rightfully his and that he not damage his neighbours or the members of his household. In fact this is the hardest of them all that he not harm his household, for there are many who are scrupulous not to offend another. All their interaction with others is “keeping up appearances”, but when they are at home they allow themselves to behave with a lack of patience and without any due consideration.

The Gaon Rabbeinu Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l (who was a close lifelong friend of Rabbeinu HaGadol zt”l), said that if a person’s hands are soiled with oil, he will wash his hands and dry them with a towel. However, if he wipes his hands on the towel whilst they are dirty with the oil, he transgresses a Torah law, as it states, “However, where your fellow Israelites are concerned, you must not dominate one another to break one’s spirit” (Vayikra 25:46). It is forbidden for a person to cause his spouse to unnecessarily work harder to clean the towel!

Many times people damage the property of other members in their household. They take from the little ones whatever they want, even though the children are particular about this. The older ones sometimes think that everything is theirs and as if they have control over the little ones. Likewise, the parents must realise that the principles of “man and his fellow” apply equally to young children. For a person who smites his children against the halachah, transgresses the severe sin of lifting his hand against another, even though he is his son. To assist a person in contemplating this and other similar matters, he requires an inner policeman. Every person should be open to the idea of such a policeman as G-d-fearing people are accustomed to, and so they will avoid sinning.

The Torah cautions us that the judges and police must be free from the sin of “bribery”. By a person appointing his individual “judge and policeman” for his inner conscience, he will be careful not to allow his personal decisions to have ulterior motives but rather to assess everything objectively.

Every year we read Parashat Shofetim during the first week of Ellul. This is to indicate to us that we must get ready in the month of mercy and selichot. To greet the Yamim Noraim that are coming to us for good with a spiritual reckoning . How has the past year has been? What must we rectify in our behaviour and improve our conduct as we greet the new year?

With this may we merit, with Hashem’s help, though personal contemplation, to arrive appropriately prepared for the Day of Judgement, which is coming to us for goodness and berachah.

Shabbat Shalom!

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