You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities… (Devarim 16:18)
ANOTHER NAME FOR a judge is “Elohim,” one of the few Names of God that can have a holy and profane meaning. Man was made be “b’tzelem Elokim,” and we use the Kuf (k in English) instead of the actual Heh (h in english) because we are referring to God, so the Name is holy.
As the Sforno points out however on the actual verse (Bereishis 1:26), the goal of life is to drop the “tzelem” part and actually become an Elohim. Obviously, this does not mean to become an actual god, which is why we can pronounce it with the Heh. It refers to a particular potential man has to act like Elokim by being an Elohim.
The key to understanding this is in understanding what the Name “Elokim” means. It is a Name, the Sforno explains, that refers to God as judge, a discerning intellectual Being that weighs and evaluates facts in order to come to a truthful decision. When God does this, He is functioning in the capacity of Elokim. When a person does this, they are an Elohim.
The Rambam begins Hilchos Dayos by enumerating the various different types of personality traits, each of which has an extreme. That is the way many people tend to be, extreme in one trait or another. It’s just easier that way. Then a person doesn’t have to think about it that much, instead just leaving their decisions to “Default Mode.”
The Rambam does not like that approach to life, because God doesn’t. Instead he advocates a different approach altogether, and it has a tremendously profound origin. In fact, it goes back to the very beginning of history, to what we call “Tikun Ma’aseh Bereishis,” the rectification of Creation.
Kabbalah refers to it as the “Maskala,” which is Aramaic for “mishkal,” which is a scale. In general, a scale has two cups, and is used to weigh something by putting known weights on one side and balancing them out with an unknown weight on the other side. When both cups are at equal height, then their weights are the same.
The Maskala also has two sides, but they are opposites. In this type of scale, there is a third side that balances between the two of them. For example, Avraham was the trait of Chesed, which shares. Yitzchak was the opposite trait of Gevurah, which holds back. Ya’akov was Tifferes, which is the balance between the two of them. It is a mixture of Chesed and Gevurah, the percentage of each depending on the situation at the moment.
The intellectual process the Sforno refers to is called “shikol hada’as,” the word “shikol” coming from the word “mishkal.” That is what we are supposed to do when making decisions, especially ones with big consequences. We’re supposed to gather in all the relevant information, then put it all on an intellectual scale, and mentally weigh it. The heavier side will be the one with that determines the weight of the sides in the discussion.
Hence, when the Talmud says that a person only sins as an act of insanity, it means that they wouldn’t do the wrong thing (i.e. sin) if they properly weighed the issues. Therefore, the rabbis have said, “Reckon the loss [that may be sustained through the fulfillment] of a commandment against the reward [accruing] thereby, and the gain [that may be obtained through the committing] of a transgression against the loss [entailed] thereby” (Pirkei Avos 2:1).
That’s how the yetzer hara works. He’s a con man. He convinces the person that they are getting a better deal than they really are. By the time the person realizes they’ve been conned, like every con man, the yetzer hara is long gone, so-to-speak. It is the person himself who has to live with the consequences of their incomplete decision.
Unfortunately, too many people do not take decision making seriously enough, except perhaps when it comes to money. Money is such a central part of life, with consequences that are both tangible and immediate, that people realize they have to be careful when facing a risk. Then they make a point of gathering sufficient information, getting professional advice, and deliberating before making their financial move.
But other than that, people tend to sell themselves short when it comes to many of their life-impacting decisions. They either don’t take them seriously enough, or feel that they can always fix things up later if they have to. It’s only “later,” once they have to face the reality of the consequences, that they realize the folly of such an approach.
It may seem that people are just lazy, only thinking when they have to. But have you ever seen how much energy some people will use just to avoid having to do something responsible? Rather, they just don’t realize what it is that is keeping them from using that energy in a more responsible manner. If they did, they’d fight back and grow up.
The Talmud says that the yetzer hara of a person wakes up each day to kill them (Kiddushin 30b). Sometimes it does this literally, convincing a person that suicide is better than life. Most of the time, it just gets people to waste moments of life and squander opportunities for spiritual growth.
The first man’s body came from the ground, and though all others have been born since then, they all still have a natural drive to return back to the ground. They want to die, and have a good time doing it. Any desire a person has to live is from their soul, which wants to return back to Heaven and ultimate life. The remainder of life, says the Ramchal, is just battle-after-battle between the yetzer tov, or the soul, and the yetzer hara, or the body.
Ignorance is the body’s best weapon, and it is amazing just how many stupid things people have done throughout history. It’s not that they CHOSE to do the stupid thing. It’s that they CHOSE to not think through what they were doing to come to the realization that it was the dumb thing to do. It was just a waste of a precious life.
The mind is the soul’s best weapon. The truth is out there. It just has to be found by cutting through the jungle of ideas and confusion like a machete in a dense forest. Do that, and you will find the most meaningful approach to life in any given situation. A shikol hada’as will get a discerning mind to the bottom of just about any matter, and will provide a more accurate course to navigate through life.
It is for this that we are judged on Rosh Hashanah. The Bais Din sits down and looks at our decisions, and then how we arrived at them. If we did the necessary brain work, then we will be judged favorably, often even if we made a mistake. If we didn’t, then we will be judged less favorably, even if it happened to turn out okay for us. We were made b’tzelem Elokim, and our judgment depends on how much we lived up to that merit.
When a person does not work on becoming an Elohim, then their behavior becomes instinctual. Once that happens, then they act not much different than the animal world, no matter how much more sophisticated they seem to be. God didn’t make man so He could be a divine zookeeper. He made man so that he could reflect the reality of God in the world. How well a person does this is a function of how much they are willing to use their brain.