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.