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Shoftim: Righteous Judgement

שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך אשר ה' אלקיך נותן לך לשבטיך ושפטו את העם משפט צדק.

“Judges and guards shall be placed in all of your gates that Hashem your G-d is giving you for your tribes, and they shall judge the nation with a righteous judgement.” (Devarim 16:18)

Why is it necessary to remind us once more that Eretz Yisroel was given to us by Hashem? This is something we all know, as it is stated many times in the Torah. Why is it mentioned again in this verse?

Furthermore, why does the Torah emphasize that the justices should judge the nation righteously? It is self-understood that the appointed judges must be honest and upstanding men of justice.

The Midrash Tanchuma brings an interesting explanation in the name of Rav Yehuda ben Shalom: What does it mean to judge the nation with a righteous judgement? It means that the judges, the leaders of the people, should justify the people’s actions to Hashem. They should even bend the truth if necessary in order to present the people in a better light. From whom do we learn this? continues the Midrash. We learn this from Gideon ben Yoash; when the people in his generation were suffering Hashem searched for a person who would judge them favorably, but He couldn’t find anyone, because the generation was poor of mitzvos and good deeds. Finally he found a merit in Gideon, who began to speak favorably of his fellow men. Because of this an angel revealed itself to him and said: “Go with this strength and help Israel!” Which strength was the angel referring to? The power of the merit he created by speaking favorably of the people.

We see from this how important it is for the Jewish leaders to judge the people favorably and mention their positive qualities to Hashem.

Let’s look a bit closer at this Midrash. The Midrash tells us that Hashem searched for someone who would judge the people favorably. This was at a time when the people had fallen very low and they were poor of mitzvos and good deeds, yet Hashem yearned for someone to find merits in them. Why couldn’t Hashem find such a person? The Midrash gives us the answer: “For they were poor of mitzvos and good deeds.” We see that in the end Gideon was able to find the good in them, so why was he the only one to do so? Why couldn’t others also see the good in the people of that generation?

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that a person must always judge others favorably because while judging others, he passes judgement on himself as well. A person who isn’t righteous will find it very difficult to see the righteousness in others. The greater a person is the more merits he would find in other people. This may be why no one else in that generation who able to see the good in others, because they were poor of mitzvos. The Midrash doesn’t say: “Finally Gideon stood up and judged the people favorably…” Instead, the Midrash tells us: “Finally He found a merit in Gideon, who began to speak favorably of his fellow men.” Since Gideon began to speak favorably of his fellow men, he must have had personal merit, because in order to see the good in others a person must be righteous.

We can see from this how much Hashem wants us to find the good in others and judge people favorably.

We are now in the month of Elul, before the yomim noraim. This is the time of year when it is even more important and beloved by Hashem to hear us judge our fellow men favorably. Hashem wants to inscribe all of us in the Book of Life; sometimes He waits for a person to mention another’s virtues in order to be able to pass a favorable judgement on him.

Everything that happens in the world is a message from Hashem. The recent major flooding that destroyed an entire city and took thousands of lives is also a message from Hashem; we must take this as a personal warning to do tshuva. Thousands of people lost all of their earthly possessions. Let us think for a moment: are we also victims, in a spiritual sense? Were our mitzvos destroyed, swept away by the floods?

Looking back to the times of Gideon, how could it be that an entire generation was so poor of mitzvos that it was difficult to find merits in them? Our tzaddikim taught us that when a person performs mitzvos without doing tshuva on past sins, the evil spirits have the power to snatch away those mitzvos and use them for their own benefit. The Midrash says that the people were “poor” of mitzvos; it doesn’t say that they didn’t do the mitzvos in the first place. They may have performed many mitzvos but still remained poor because the evil spirits snatched them away. A person may be working very hard and earn a nice wage, but if thieves steal all his money he is left poor and destitute. Likewise, the people did many mitzvos but because they did not do tshuva the mitzvos were swept away by the current.

This is what the verse is telling us: “Judges and guards shall be placed in all of your gates,” judge your own actions and learn a lesson from everything that transpires. “Hashem your G-d is giving,” everything that Hashem does, even in distant places, is “for you” – it’s meant to teach you something! “For your tribes,” – the word shevet, tribe, can also mean a stick used for disciplining. Hashem is sending us a warning to discipline us. “And they shall judge the nation with a righteous judgement” - how do we prevent such troubles from happening and instead bring goodness to the world? By judging others favorably. If we will search for merits in others, Hashem will see the merits in us and judge all of us favorably as well.

The Days of Awe are approaching and all of us need merits. If we will judge others favorably and find the righteousness in them, Hashem will find the righteousness in us. May we all be inscribed for a sweet new year, a year of blessing and salvation. Those in need of a refuah shall merit a full recovery and those in need of a nechama shall merit a full consolation. May we all merit greeting Moshiach together, speedily in our days, Amein.


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