As the saying goes, ensure that your own house is in order before proceeding to tell others how to run theirs.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Shoftim” (Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9), and it contains dozens of mitzvot (Torah commandments)! One mitzvah is “Judges and policemen you will establish for yourselves in all your cities.” This is the requirement –binding on all mankind, not just Jews—to have a law enforcement system.
A famous question is asked about this verse: Why does it have to say, “Judges and policemen you will establish for yourselves in all your cities”? Could it have not said, “Judges and policemen you will establish in all your cities”? Why the need to add “for yourselves”?
The Chassidic masters answer the question by suggesting that the words “for yourselves” teach us that we must avoid having double standards in life: one that we apply to ourselves and another, stricter, more critical standard that we apply to others. We may not be easy on ourselves and harder on others. We must judge others with the same standards that we use to judge ourselves.
The verse is now readily understandable: Judges and policemen are not merely for the community. We also need to have “judges” and “policemen” for ourselves, for our own behavior as well.
We can also add that perhaps before people start judging members of your community, they should be judging “yourselves.” As they say, ensure that your own house is in order before you proceed to tell others how to run theirs!
The biblical verse quoted above actually ends with the words “…and you shall judge the nation with righteousness,” and it is very much connected to the beginning of the verse. In order to be a judge of righteousness (and let’s face it…we’re all always judging others, whether consciously or subconsciously), we must be fair and open. We must evaluate ourselves before evaluating others. We must look at others with a good eye and a desire to judge favorably.
If we exercise good manner and character traits and a desire for equal “law enforcement” for all, we will become close to our fellow man and more beloved in God’s eyes. Judaism teaches that we must always strive for peace with our fellow man just as we strive for peace with God.
Indeed, the mitzvot of the Torah are divided into two tracks: those between man and man and those between man and God. This week’s commandment – “Judges and policemen you will establish for yourselves in all your cities”- is one of the mitzvot, which, when properly practiced, fulfills both!
This week’s Torah thought is based on “The Heart of the Parashah” by Rabbi Jeremy Finn (Mosaica Press).
For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin, click on the links below.
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