Devar Torah - Shoftim

Friday, 21 August, 2020 - 9:08 am

Elul: Does everything we Hear, See and Speak make a Difference?

By Rabbi Shimon Raichik

This week’s parsha, Shoftim, begins with the mitzvah of setting up judges and law enforcement in all the gates of our cities. Chassidus explains that similarly in our service of Hashem there are the 7 gates of the body. Everyone has 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils and a mouth. We need the knowledge to judge what is best to do and on what is best to avoid doing. These are the judges that we place over our gates. 

Even when we realize what is best we still may lack necessary resolve to follow though. We are reminded to deploy and to strengthen our inner law enforcement team; to arouse a strong will to follow through on our best decisions according to the Torah. Uniting this divide between what we know and how to act, getting the judges and law enforcement to work together as one is an essential lesson of the first pasuk of this week’s parsha. 

This message is most timely because this week’s parsha falls in the month of Elul, a month of review and reconsideration of what influenced our decisions and behaviors over the past year. As we review, we make new and innovative resolutions to expand our knowledge base and add in all areas of Torah, tefillah and gemilus chasadim. We also resolve to oversee the entire process and make sure that both the knowledge and the action come together and work well as one. This is how this first pasuk ends; “And they shall judge the people (with) Mishpat Tzedek, (righteous judgment)”. So too every one of us knows that our lives are respectable and honorable when we implement and integrate the Torah that we learn into our behavior throughout the year.

The purpose of our two eyes is to look positively upon another Jew. There is an acronym for the first word Shema of the Shema Yisroel, Sau Marom Eineichem,  lift up your eyes on high. Our service of Hashem is to  lift up our eyes and see how Hashem created the world. By gazing upon the wonders of creation we arouse a feeling of connection to Hashem, a love and fear of Hashem. We have two ears with which to hear the commandments that Hashem has given us to follow and to do. We have two nostrils with which to smell. In the Beis HaMikdash  the sense of smell is related to the service of the Ketores which  represents our bond with Hashem. The pleasantness of the aroma comes from our opportunity to be able to serve and bond as one with Hashem.

Our mouths were created to be used for words of tefillah the Torah  and speaking positively about another Jew.  Our mouth was not created for gossip. When the opportunity arises to hear a juicy piece of gossip, at that moment we are presented with an opportunity to realize that how we react right now makes all the difference. This does not just refer to speaking lashon hara  but also listening to anything that's not positive about another Jew.  When we stand before Hashem on the day a judgement the prosecutor approaches to present all of our shortcomings. If we had closed our ears to the negativity about others, so too Hashem will not listen to anything negative about us. 

I was amazed as a child when my father stood in the shul davening late one Friday night after minyan with his fingers in his ears as the shul erupted in discussing a big fresh piece of lashon hara. Two people had an argument and one had hurt the other. My father didn’t go home but instead stayed in his place to complete the davening. That’s when I learned this lesson that every thought word and deed counts. My father went over to the accused person and implored him for his own well being to go back home. By doing this he most likely prevented a difficult confrontation. 

If we use our words to brag about our own accomplishments we are wasting the gift of speech. Hashem is waiting for a Jew to use his speech for words of the Torah, davening and words of help and comfort for each other with ahavas Yisroel. The same applies to sight smell and hearing. It’s a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week test and accomplishment. Yetzer Hara tries it’s best to disrupt and intervene. The Yetzer Hara has it’s familiar way of putting us down and getting us to be insensitive. It says; “Don’t think so much of yourself to think that everything you hear, see and speak makes a big difference”

We constantly confront the Yetzer Hara, and if we are weak then the Yetzer Hara  becomes the spokesman that dictates to look at inappropriate things. The Yetzer Hara  says that it's okay because we are cold and unaffected by what we see. The truth however is  that even if we are not affected by it in the moment in the long-term it leaves an impression on us. In time that impression will surface and affect us, testing us to act inappropriately.

So too with the sense of smell. We are naturally hard-wired to be attracted to and desire to consume things that smell good. This creates a conflict within ourselves when it's forbidden, inappropriate or unhealthy. Similarly improper thoughts cause a challenge to overcome the attraction created by those thoughts.

There is a story told about Reb Mendel from the years that he was in the Gulag. One day he noticed a follow prisoner didn’t look well. Another prisoner approached the man and asked him what was bothering him. He responded by saying that once he was a great doctor. He wasn’t just any doctor; he was the director of a very large hospital, which had many departments. He said; “People were constantly coming to me for all kinds of advice and guidance. Then they arrested me and threw me into this prison. Now look at me, and what has become of me; my life has no value.” Another one of the prisoners overheard the conversation and approached with his story. He said; I was the lead attorney of a large law firm. I was responsible for litigating some of the most famous and important cases in recent history. He then sighed and said “Look at me today and where I am.” Another man approached to say that high ranked Natchalnik who wielded a lot of authority and of whom everyone was afraid. One day the NKVD arrested him and now he is the prisoner, in the place he put so many of his victims. “Now look at me” he said. They then all turned to Reb Mendel to see what he would say. Reb Mendel said: “I never lost anything. Before I came I was a servant of G-d, 24 hours a day seven days a week. It is different now because before it was easier and now it's harder, but I never lost anything. I am still the exact same servant who still needs to serve 24 hours a day seven days a week.” So too us today we are the same today in 2020.

Where do we begin to make our review in the month of Elul? With an accounting of all the 7 gates; our eyes, our ears, our nose and our mouth. We take practical and concrete steps in the right direction. By reviewing and renewing on our end, symbolized in the words in the Elul acronym; Ani L’Dodi, we merit the renewal of the marriage contract with Hashem, and merit to have Hashem be with us “V’Dodi Li” throughout the year. When Moshiach comes we will no longer need shotrim, law enforcement, because there will be no more Yetzer Hara. Shotrim will be replaced with Yoatzim, advisors and coaches to help us grow. Only then can we defund the police. May we all merit to hear the shofar of Moshiach and see with our eyes the return of Hashem’s presence to Tzion with the Geula Ha’Amitis v’HaSheima.

A Good Shabbos and a Freilichen Chodesh and a Chasima vChasima Tovah

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