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.
As the Shla"h HaKadosh writes, the Sefer Yetzirah says that there are seven
gates into a person. What are these seven "gates?" Two eyes, two ears, two
nostrils, and one mouth -- these are the gates, through which outside
influences come into our bodies. The verse tells us to make judges and
officers, to ensure that what comes in through our gates is not the bad but
In any well-run city, produce and commerce comes in -- and the garbage is
removed. But without guards at our gates, we can take in the worst garbage
and filth and bring it into our hearts! Are we looking at garbage or holy
texts? Are we listening to gossip or words of Torah? All of this depends
upon the rules we set for ourselves and the way we police ourselves.
Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchoki, explains that "officers" are enforcers, who
strike people with sticks when necessary to force them to follow the law.
How, then, do we apply this when we attempt to police ourselves? In the
hugely popular "Harry Potter" book series, there is an elf named Dobby who,
whenever he does something that his owners would not want him to do,
vigorously strikes himself as he imagines his owners would if they were
there. This is meant to be humorous, because no one beats himself up in
quite this fashion. This is not what policing ourselves is meant to be.
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." 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." The key is to
create reminders, the "policemen" that will catch us _before_ we do
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"?
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2002 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.