• Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz

Shabbos Shoftim, 5779/2019 ~ Living Life “Center Stage”

Tish Talk by Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz

Thoughts from your Rabbi for Your Shabbos Table



Dear Friends,

Tish Talk is back! Enjoying my few “Shabbats away” this summer, I am just as excited and energized to return from a memorable and memory-filled vacation with family, friends, and a little alone time. Indeed, this week’s “Town Hall” (Torah On Wednesday Night) topic was about Judaism and the Torah’s attitude towards vacation.


The crux of the issue discussed was: does vacation, aka “time off” and away from our expectedly productive existence and participation in the “busy-ness” of life, have independent and inherent value, or is this “down-time” more of a necessary evil utilized as a tool to restore our weary bodies and minds? In other words, if we never got “tired”, would vacation still have value?


Well, I think this very Parasha spells out the answer, which is my Chiddush for you this week. In verses 17:8-14 the Torah details the importance of heeding the word of our Torah judges, our “Shoftim”. “You shall come to the. Judge who will be in those days; you will inquire, and they will tell you the word of judgment. You shall do …and you shall be careful to do everything that they will teach you.


According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgment they will say to you, shall you do; you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left…”. 

Those last words are challenging to understand. Why the need to repeat that we should not deviate “right or left”? The Torah already told us to heed the “Shofet” and then warned us to do exactly as we are taught. What does the new and repeated mitzvah to “not deviate…right or left” add? Rashi indeed cites an interesting Talmudic interpretation, clearly noting the problem.


I would like, however, to quote Maimonides as I share an insight you might not have considered. Rambam famously teaches in Hilchot Deot 1:4 (“Laws of Personality Development”) about the “Straight Way”, commonly referred to as the “Golden Path”. As Rambam writes:


“The straight path: This [involves discovering] the midpoint temperament of each and every trait that man possesses [within his personality.] This refers to the trait, which is equidistant from either of the extremes, without being close to either of them. Therefore, the early Sages instructed a man to evaluate his traits, to calculate them and to direct them along the middle path, so that he will be sound {of body}.” According to Maimonides, the way to perfection as a human being is when one can walk the middle road regardless of how far his temperament, habits, education, nature pulls him towards one extreme or the other.


What Rambam is teaching is the importance of maintaining balance and equilibrium in all spheres of life. There must be room for experiencing all facets of life, of this world, of our bodies and minds. But we must learn to find and strike the correct balance, so that we can ultimately find that golden road where we can “hold it all together”.


That’s how I believe we should view the concept of vacation. Today more than ever, we are so hyper-focused (as we often need to be) on our careers, our relationships, our education, health and wellbeing. We work hard and play even harder. We perform the “show of life” with a ferociousness. We can’t tear ourselves away from it all, needing our “phones” to be charged 24/7. Time off offers us a “reset”. Restoration of our equilibrium, a return to our center, to a balanced existence, to a harmonious embrace of all that the world offers. It is indeed inherently vital to our physical, mental and spiritual health, just as it is to our “Shlaimut Ha-Adam” – our essential humanity.


And perhaps that is what the Torah meant by adding “”do not deviate…right or left”. Our creator who knows best how we can achieve perfection reminds us that even as we listen to the words of our teachers, we must avoid the extremes. Never too right or too left. Despite our drives that push us in whichever direction, we are bid to strive for the hard-to-achieve (and harder-to-maintain) blissful and balanced center. That is where true greatness lies.


On this end-of-summer “Shabbos of Judgment”, let us become the best judges of ourselves and for ourselves as we take advantage of those glorious moments we experienced stepping “outside”, and bring peace, harmony and balance back to and “inside” our lives!



Shabbat Shalom Umevorach! A beautiful and Peaceful Shabbos to All!

Shalom Rubanowitz, at the "Shul on the Beach", Venice, California. Comment to rabbi@shulonthebeach.com YOUR FEEDBACK IS ALWAYS APPRECIATED!