Shoftim - “Judyism Revisited”
Almost exactly a year ago, I had a glorious Shabbos in Jerusalem, and met a traveling lecturer who spoke during Kiddush at the Maayanot Shul, in Nachlaot. This lecturer mesmerized the audience with a powerful message: Don’t judge others! Accept people! Open your hearts and allow different souls to join along with you in a mutual journey towards community growth and enlightenment. He ended his talk with the challenge to the community to springboard this message by placing a huge sign outside the Shul door exclaiming: “Come one come all-No Judgments here”.
What a beautiful message. “No Judgments Here” is indeed a mantra heard in burgeoning, millennial-led progressive communities throughout the world. The enlightened among us have learned the importance in making all comfortable, creating eclectic, all-encompassing welcoming places of study, worship, fellowship and community.
But something really nagged at me. Is this the true Torah way? Is open, no-questions- asked pure acceptance of whoever-whenever-however-whatever without judgment and precondition a value found in the Torah? Yes, we triumph the values of kindness, charity, love of others, concern for every human and creature. But total non-judgmental acceptance-is that found in the Torah?
I could not find any Torah source for such an idea and I challenged the speaker with that. I asked him (respectfully): “where do we find these (very beautiful) ideas in the Torah? In fact, I pointed out, there is a whole Parsha that starts with the command: “Shoftim Vshotrim Titen Lcha Bchol Sh’Arecha”: “You shall appoint Judges and Officers in all your gates”. These are indeed the very words our weekly Torah portion starts with.
The Rabbi then got himself into more trouble. He quickly recovered: Sure, it does! In Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our fathers, it says: “Judge everyone favorably”. And it also says: Don’t judge your friend until you reach his place” (in other words-until you are standing in his shoes). “So there” he said. It’s right in the Mishna.
And with great respect I pointed out to the Rabbi that the quotations he cited proved my point, articulated by the following observation: Our Parsha doesn’t just tell us to appoint judges for a “court”. The Torah uses the words “In your gates”. Yes, our Rabbis tell us that the courts should be in the “city”, accessible to the public. But that is sort of obvious. Why mention specifically that the judging must go on in the “gates”?
think the Torah is teaching us not only about the civil or criminal judicial system, but providing us with guidance for all of our lives. Throughout our lives, people pass through our own personal gates. Our doors, paths, minds, lives. We cannot allow everything and everybody total and free unfettered acceptance. This can and will destroy our essence. We each need to exercise discretion and discernment at every juncture. Every parent knows that before a babysitter is chosen, absolute trust for the safety of the child must be present. When a single woman allows a gentleman to take her out-alone she assures herself that he indeed is a gentleman. We make sure to watch our food production to ensure that our butchers sell us truly kosher meat. Synagogues place guards at the door throughout the world-to ensure the safety of their congregants. An investor who trusts everyone she meets will drive herself to ruin if she does not check the credentials and track record of her money manager. We all have suffered the unfortunate results of friendships that we should never had made so easily. So yes, we must ALWAYS be judging, discerning, discriminating. Otherwise we would be swamped with everyone and everything without the ability to find the way out of our own gates…
So, then what DOES the Torah want from us? exactly what the Mishna, as quoted by my Jerusalem Rabbi friend says: JUDGE everything and everyone, but DO IT FAVORABLY. Judge with an open gaze, a good eye, a benevolent attitude. Look for the good in people. Give them the benefit of your doubts. Give everyone a chance. But always be on guard as to who gets in the door. Once they are in-OY VEY we know how hard it can be to get them out…
So, this Shabbos of “Shoftim”, let us rededicate ourselves to being more selective in what and who we let into our lives-our homes, minds-even our mouths, so that we will experience true “Tzedek”-righteousness, Justice, purity and success in every aspect of our lives, and that that we may merit only blessing and goodness entering each and every one of our gates.
GATE Shabbos! and Shabbat Shalom