שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך אשר ה' אלקיך נותן לך לשבטיך ושפטו את העם משפט צדק
“Judges and guards should be placed by you in all your gates that Hashem your G-d gave you for your tribes, and they shall judge the people with justice.” (Devarim 16:18)
This verse speaks in the singular, as if addressing each Jew in person. How does this mitzvah of appointing judges for the community apply to each Jew as an individual? After all, this is a communal obligation.
Another difficulty with this verse is the seemingly unnecessary mention that these gates were given by “Hashem your G-d for your tribes.” It would have been enough for the verse to say that we shall place judges by all gates to judge the people.
We must also understand the command that these judges shall judge the people “with justice.” This verse is addressing those who appoint the judges and not the candidates themselves, so why are the appointers admonished about justice, when this is something that pertains to the judges alone?
Later in this week’s sidra it says: “When you will go out to war with your enemies and you will see that they have horses and chariots and they have more people than you, do not fear them.” This seems like a very difficult commandment. How can people be told not to fear the enemy when they see them coming in such great numbers?
The Ohr Hachaim teaches that this is a message for every Jew who goes to battle against the yetzer hara. Even if he sees that the yetzer hara comes along with a large army of impure angels that have been created through the person’s sins, he should not fear but he should continue performing mitzvos and doing what is right.
Today more than ever this battle with the yetzer hara is extremely difficult. We may interpret this verse to mean that today, “When you go outside,” even just by stepping out the door, the person is thrown into a “war with your enemies.” Just walking through the streets presents so many difficult nisyonos. The Ohr Hachaim further interprets this verse that when the person sees the army of impure angels he becomes frightened because he realizes that they were created through his own doings. This makes the person fear them even more, because it is all his own fault.
This is why the Torah tells him, “Do not fear them,” because Hashem is with you as He is with each and every Jew in his battle against the yetzer hara.
The month of Elul is approaching, and we are all thinking about the coming Days of Judgment. A person may begin to worry how he will ever come clean on these awesome days, when the impure angels that were created from his sins will come before Hashem and testify against the person who brought about their existence. How can a person ensure that he should be judged favorably in Heaven?
The Torah advises the person to take two important steps in order to ensure a favorable outcome on the Day of Judgment. The first thing he should do is make a reckoning of his deeds. He should examine all of his actions throughout the year and remember the wrongdoings he committed. He should sincerely regret these wrongdoings and repent. Our sages tell us (Tancuma Mishpatim 4) that “when there is judgment below there is no judgment Above.” This means that when a person judges himself, and Hashem sees that he has regrets and sincerely wants to repent, then the prosecuting angels are silenced in Heaven.
This is what the verse is telling us: “Judges and guards should be placed by you.” The person should be like a judge on himself. “In all your gates” - a person’s eyes, ears, and mouth are called the gates of the body. Judge everything that you did with your gates - all the sights you saw, the things you heard and the words you spoke. “Your tribes” – the word shevet – tribe, also means a rod or staff that is used when flogging someone. If a person judges his actions and repents with all his heart, it will be considered as if he received his punishment in the form of lashes.
There is a poignant story that emphasizes this point. The Ostrovtzer Gaon once traveled to the Shivover Rav zt”l. On the way, he thought to himself about the punishment of lashes that was given by the judges in Israel when a person committed certain transgressions. If we would be able to receive lashes nowadays for our sins, he thought, then we would be cleansed from our sins. Perhaps the Shinover Rav would be willing to implement this practice again so that a person who sincerely wishes to do tshuva should be able to come to his Rebbe and receive the lashes he deserves.
When he arrived at the Rav’s home and entered his study, the Shivover Rav told him: “The Torah says (Devarim 25:3) that a person should be given forty lashes. The sages came along and reduced this to thirty nine lashes. Why did the sages reduce the number of lashes that were given to sinners? This is because when a person who committed a sin gets flogged, he feels that this removes his sin completely. But since he didn’t get the final lash, he is not so sure anymore if his sin was totally forgiven. This is why the sages did not want to give the full amount of required lashes, because they declared that ‘One lash in a person’s heart is better than a hundred physical lashes (Berachos 7a).’ When a person has a sincere desire for tshuva, then he has cleansed himself more than any number of lashes could.” The Shinover Rav concluded, “Today we no longer have the practice of giving lashes, but one truly sincere thought of tshuva in a person’s heart is a form of lashes that we do have today, and it is worth more than a hundred physical lashes.”
The verse concludes: “And they shall judge the people with justice (tzedek).” The Heavenly Court will pass a favorable judgment on the person who has self-judged himself and declare him a tzaddik.
Doing tshuva is one of the two things a person can do to ensure that he is judged favorably by Hashem. The Torah is giving us another piece of advice as well. The Rambam says in Hilchos Tshvua that a person must repent with all his heart “until the One Who knows all that is hidden will testify that he will not return to his sin.” This is a very difficult requirement. After all, how can a person be sure that he will never stumble again?
The answer is that a person who attaches himself to the Torah will have a greater assurance that he will not commit the same transgressions again. Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim, “Fortunate is the man who did not go along with the plans of the wicked and in the ways of sinful ones he did not stand, and in a group of frivolous ones he did not sit.” How can he avoid all of these sins? The next verse gives us the answer: “For in the Torah of G-d is his longing and in His Torah he toils day and night. And then he will be like a tree planted at the riverside,” which is strong against the winds. A person who toils in Torah day and night will be firm against the ill winds that threaten to overcome him. The Rambam says: “An immoral thought can only overpower a person if his heart is empty of wisdom.” If the heart is full of Torah, the yetzer hara has no power over it.
The word shaar – gate, can also mean to envision or contemplate. The Torah instructs us to place judges and guards at our gates. Our hearts which hold our thoughts should be well guarded and full of Torah. This way, we will be able to avoid transgressing the Torah and ensure a favorably judgment from Above.