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  • Yehuda Pevzner

Judges & Sheriffs

This week’s Torah portion contains the instruction, “You must appoint judges and sheriffs for yourself in all your cities.” The word used for “cities” here literally means “gates.” Allegorically, then, this verse can be interpreted to refer to the “gates” of the body—the ears, eyes, nose, and mouth, through which external stimuli enter our consciousness. We are thus instructed to station “judges and sheriffs” to guard these gates so that we will not be invaded by destructive entities that could be detrimental to our spiritual health and integrity.

The judges were not only responsible for rendering judgment but for enforcing proper behavior, as well, which was done through the sheriffs. Analogously, our spiritual “judges” comprise both our study of the Torah (which teaches us which influences are beneficial and therefore permitted and which are detrimental and therefore forbidden) and our behavior in accordance with the Torah’s teachings.

Our spiritual “sheriffs” are required only when our temptations and habitual inclinations interfere with the orderly functioning of our spiritual judiciary, in which case we have to mobilize ourselves to oppose their evil machinations. We do this by carefully considering how harmful it is to ignore the Torah’s injunctions and by deprecating and scorning the advocates of rebellion, both within us and without.

Moses did not appoint sheriffs when the Jewish people were in the desert because, at that time, the people were spiritually attuned and did need to be policed – once they understood the truth of the judges, they accepted it and acted accordingly. By the same token, regarding the times of Moshiach, G-d promises to “restore your judges as in former times” but not the sheriffs.

In the future era of Moshiach, evil will not hold sway over us, so there will be no need for extraneous measures to ensure that we act in accordance with the Divine will – we will be intrinsically in sync with it.

Wishing you Chodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yehuda

** Shabbat candle lighting time in NYC is today, Friday, at 7:32 PM.


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