This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.
By Shoshana Rosa
Have you ever gazed at the face of a grandfather clock? And then got caught up in watching its pendulum swinging back and forth back and forth back and forth? There's something hypnotic about a pendulum's swing, mesmerizing even, and with regard to static personalities, it certainly gets the job done in soothing nervous nerves.
When it comes to the inner working of a person's mind, anyone can draw a parallel between himself and the pendulum. What I mean is that there's no such thing as labeling any one characteristic as good while claiming that another is bad. Good or bad has nothing to do with the characteristic itself but with the direction in which one chooses to channel it or. G-d doesn't create garbage -- each and every one of us is a perfect product. Therefore, our aim isn't to cut bits and pieces of ourselves away as we label one aspect of ourselves, like an inclination toward generosity, as good while we condemn a natural bent toward overeating as bad. Our only task is to channel the swing of our middot (personality traits), to direct them toward leading meaningful lives.
How do we do that?
By establishing law and order within and without. But, more importantly, within.
This week's Parshat Shoftim begins with a pasuk (verse) which states a Jew's obligation to lodge judges and law enforcers at the gateways of every community, "You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities..." (Deuteronomy 16:18). On the surface, this piece of news seems pretty cut and dried -- in order to keep the peace and to rein in anarchy, one must establish judges, police and video cameras, anything that encourages a person to think twice before he commits a crime. The absence of all of the above, even temporarily, could result in utter chaos. Consider the madness of the infamous New York City blackout in 1977 as people descended into looting and arson when darkness fell over Manhattan and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Furthermore, if one takes a look beneath the carpeting of the Torah's text, one can see that the Torah is addressing a deeper issue than law enforcement. It's not enough, G-d tells us, to establish gatekeepers for society. After all, what happens when the lights go out? We, as Jews, have committed to memory the words, "I have G-d placed before my eyes always," in an effort to live according to the Torah's laws whether or not we risk getting caught by people. He [G-d] sees everything; there is nothing anyone can hide from Him.
If we have the letter as well as the spirit of Torah law fixed within ourselves, then we can hope for a society that will remain tranquil, even when there's a power outage. Or, even when the kids get stranded on a desert island after the plane crashes and goes up in flames. This one's for you, Piggy.
The Ohr HaTorah, a commentator from Jerusalem, points out how the the word שופט, judge, is analogous to our intellects, our ability to investigate and discern between right and wrong within ourselves so that we can choose right. The word שערים, or city gates, is meant to be a metaphor for a person's faculties - the mind, the eyes, the lips, the feet, the hands etc., all of which can be used to do that which is good in Hashem (G-d's) eyes... or not. The idea is to channel every aspect of ourselves toward serving Hashem, heart and mind together, emotions and intellect hand in hand but not separately, not apart, not alone.
We are considered children of מלך מלכי המלכים, the king of kings. The significance of the word king comes from the following idea: in The Holy Tongue (ancient Hebrew), king is an acronym for מח, לב, כליות -- the brain, the heart and the kidneys (the area the Torah considers the seat of one's animalistic desires). We can call ourselves children of the king when we integrate and channel every facet of our personalities and basic needs in the order given by the above formula. Otherwise, we will end up with כלם, nothing.
You don't need a pendulum to meditate on that. But you already knew that.
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