We are told “Judges and officers you shall place for yourself (singular) in all of your gates” (Devarim 16:18). If the Torah is commanding us to appoint representatives as part of a Judicial System then it seems strange we are commanded to do so as individuals using the term ‘yourself’ as opposed to as a Community in the plural as ‘yourselves’? What is the Torah teaching us?
Rabbi Chaim Vital and the Shela Hakodosh both explain this verse as referring to our individual physical ‘Gates’; meaning our senses; the Gates of Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch and Taste. We are being told to Guard ourselves and use our senses in permitted and positive ways. The Rebbe of Slonim brings in the name of the Holy Books on a similar note, that there are seven Gates to the head, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and a mouth. There are permitted and forbidden foods so we can use our mouth and our sense of taste in right or wrong ways. We can use our sight to look at permitted things and it is a Mitzvah. Looking at the new moon and giving testimony over its newness, looking at the Havdalla Candle and making the blessing over its beauty are examples. On the other hand we can also use our eyes inappropriately. There are things we are and are not allowed to listen to. So our ears also need to be protected from forbidden and vulgar language. Regarding smell we are told (Yoma 9b) that the young girls in Jerusalem would click their heels to emit a perfume from inside their shoes as they would walk past the young men to attract their attention. On the other hand we can smell the fragrance of the spices by Havdalla and do a Mitzvah. We have to judge with each sense whether or not it is being used in the right way.
The rule is that we have to put judges and officers over all of our gates. The idea of a judge is referring to the intellect. We have to use our intellect to discern what things to bring close and what to distance. An officer has to take responsibility for keeping people within their boundaries. Torat Avot explains the verse regarding Balaam (the evil prophet hired to curse the Jewish people) that when he moved with his donkey to an alleyway it says “A fence on either side (of him) and the leg of Balaam was crushed” as representing that if we want to crush the Evil Inclination symbolised by Balaam the way to do it is to make boundaries for ourselves. The more we monitor ourselves and keep ourselves within good limits the healthier it is, physically, spiritually and emotionally. It’s not possible to uproot bad just using our minds alone. We have to actively subjugate our inclinations. As the Saba from Slonim said “any day that a Jew did not do something against his will is not considered to be like a day in his life”. We have to keep on fighting to take control over our thoughts speech and actions.
So many times we are quick to judge others. The Torah teaches us “Judges and officers you should place for yourself.” First we have to judge ourselves before we start judging others. Let’s be more careful about our actions, keep our senses protected and being used in the right way and then Please G-d we will merit to have the great year we are praying for Amen!