Shoftim -- Judge for Yourself
Judges and officers you shall appoint in all your cities which Hashem,
your G-d, gives you, for your tribes; they shall judge the people
righteously. You shall not pervert judgement, you shall not respect
someone's presence, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds
the eyes of the wise and makes just words crooked. (16:18-19)
What is the saddest thing imaginable? Death? Sickness?
A man once came to his doctor with a strange complaint. His illness, while
not life-threatening, gave him no peace. Wherever he went and whatever he
saw, something would strike him as hilarious, and he would break out in
peals of uncontrollable laughter. It had gotten to the point that he could
no longer be in public.
"I suggest you go somewhere very sad-perhaps that will jolt you out of
Soon afterwards, the laughter-stricken patient saw a poster announcing the
eulogy of a young man who had passed away. "Perhaps a sad hesped will do
the trick," he thought. He took a seat in the synagogue, awaiting what was
sure to be a tear-jerking speech. Indeed, the rabbi spoke eloquently and
with great sadness. But in middle of his eulogy he noticed (why did he
always have to notice such things?) that the rabbi's hat was off-centre,
and perched precariously on his head. With each emphatic body-movement, he
was sure the hat would fly straight off his head into the lap of some
unsuspecting front-row sitter. It was too much-against his will, he felt
himself bursting into great eruptions of laughter, much to the
consternation of the friends and family of the deceased. He was promptly
tossed from the shul.
Next, he tried going to the cemetery. But he kept finding spelling
mistakes and misplaced phrases on the gravestones that made him laugh all
Frustrated and uncured, he returned to his doctor. "I tried different sad
places, but somehow even in the saddest situations, I find humour."
"Come with me-I will show you something truly sad." They went to a
hospital. In a hospital bed, surrounded by his family and doctor, lay a
young boy, motionless. They were all weeping uncontrollably-even the
doctor. Turning to his doctor, the laughter-sick man said, "This is very
unusual. I'm used to seeing families cry, but doctors see sickness and
death every day. They're immune to it. They have to be, otherwise they
would be in constant depression. What's so sad about this case that even a
seasoned doctor is weeping?"
"Why don't you ask him." He did.
"You want to know what it is about this boy that makes me weep?" the
doctor said. "This has to be the saddest case I've ever treated. You see,
that young boy-he's deaf and mute."
"By all measures his illness should not be life-threatening. In fact, it's
easily treatable. And yet I sit here helplessly watching him die, and
there's nothing I can do. Without him having the ability to communicate
what's wrong, I simply can't make an accurate diagnosis. You have no idea
how helpless I feel knowing that I have the ability to save his life, and
yet I'm unable to do so."
Hearing this, the man-of-laughs' silliness ceased. He too sobbed
Sometimes a Yid strays from the straight path. Hashem needs to punish him-
a gentle reminder to repent. "Your stick and Your rod-they have guided me
(Tehillim/Psalms 23:4)." It is a very sad moment, to the extent we can
express it, for Hashem.
There's only one thing even sadder to Hashem than having to punish His
beloved child; when He punishes us, and we don't even 'get it.' At least
if we would have paid heed to our 'wake-up call,' there would have been a
point to our suffering, and Hashem's. But when we react with resentment
and bitterness, instead of with thoughts of teshuvah, Hashem's rod, so to
speak, has been wasted. Like the helpless doctor, who tries so desperately
to communicate with his mute patient so that he can cure him, Hashem too
sheds a tear at our misunderstanding His messages.
Judges and offices you shall appoint in all your cities-the 'cities',
sefarim write, allude to the human body (see Nedarim 32b explaining
Koheles/Ecclesiastes 9:14: "'A small city'-this is the body, 'with few
people in it'-these are the limbs.") Each person must have judges and
officers-the soul and the intellect, that make sure he is acting as he
should be. For your tribes-the Hebrew word for 'tribes,' she'vatecha,
alludes to the rod (shevet) with which Hashem punishes. When difficulties
befall a person, he must be especially careful to engage his soul and
intellect to assess, "What is Hashem trying to say to me?"
You shall not pervert judgement-it's critical when we perform self-
judgement that we do so with complete honesty and frankness. Only with
absolute truthfulness can we uncover and cure the ailments of the soul; it
is through truth that the soul speaks to the intellect.
You shall not respect someone's presence (lo sakir panim)-literally, this
disqualifies a judge who gives special treatment to one of the parties who
have come to him for judgement. Panim in Hebrew is the revealed aspect,
that which we see. It is always easier to put our greatest strength into
this-worldly pursuits; their reward is readily apparent; 'in your face
(panim)' so to speak. Focusing our time and efforts on holy pursuits such
as Torah study and prayer means forsaking revealed reward for that which
remains hidden. This is not easy; it requires great faith and constant
review of one's priorities. It is for this that the Torah encourages us:
Do not respect the revealed-just because you see it with your eyes doesn't
make it valuable. Do not forsake the true bliss of the World to Come for
the empty façade of material delight.
And you shall not accept a bribe-the yetzer hara tries to 'bribe' us by
showing righteous people who suffer, and wicked people who
prosper. "What's the point? Eat, drink, and be merry!" he says. Don't
accept his silly bribes. For a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and makes
just words crooked-were the reward that awaits the righteous in the World
to Come obvious, life would not be a test. A time will come when we will
recognize that the pleasures of This World were no more than an empty
bribe. But it is only special if we act in accordance with this belief
now, when there's still an element of difficulty and bribery. [Chida]
In Elul, the voice of the Shofar calls out: "Wake up, sleepy ones, from
your slumber." May Hashem grant us the wisdom to understand its voice,
and heed its message.
Have a good Shabbos.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org