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by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

"Judges and officers shall you make for yourselves in all your gates, which HaShem your G-d gives you for your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgement." [Dev. 16:18]

The legal system set out in the Torah provides for both judgement and enforcement, and even more, makes the enforcement a central part of the process - "and they shall judge" seems to refer to the officers as well as the judges. In addition, this commandment is given to all of Israel, rather than to a select group of leaders. How do we understand this? What can each of us do to set up judges, and even more, establish police? The answer, perhaps, lies in a deeper analysis of this obligation: within ourselves, we each must judge and police our own behavior.

The Rebbe of Kotsk says that this is truly dependent upon the individual, in accordance with his or her abilities. The words "for yourselves" are quite precise, he says, referring to each person's level and self-evaluation (the word for level or value, "shiur", is similar to gates, "sha'ar").

If so, we must still ask - what does it mean to be an "officer?" Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchoki, explains that "officers" are enforcers, who strike people with sticks when necessary to force them to follow the law. Are we, then, to run around hitting ourselves when we do something wrong? Obviously not. But on one level, we do understand that we're not always in the mood to follow our own guidelines. I've often been told that Aristotle was once found doing things that contradicted his own philosophical teachings, and responded to the questioner by saying "now I'm not Aristotle." I'd appreciate a reference if anyone else has heard this. In Talmudic sources [Nedarim 32b], we find that "at the time that the Evil Inclination takes control, there is no one to remind you of the Good Inclination." So in this vein, we understand that we need to set rewards and punishments for ourselves, in order to push ourselves along the right path.

In our day, guidelines are unpopular. People claim that "rules are made to be broken." It's a choice between that philosophy, and policing oneself. But isn't the latter commonly known as "growing up"?

Text Copyright © 1995 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.

The author is the Director of Project Genesis.



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