Focusing On Personal Gates Before the Heavenly Gates — The Week's End (September 2, 2022)
Sep 2nd 2022

Parashat Shoftim begins with the command to set up a proper judicial system in Israel: “You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you”. (Deuteronomy 16:18) Instead of the usual word for cities or settlements, the Torah uses a different term, Sh’arekha, literally meaning “your gates”. Although the simple translation would be “the gates of your cities”, many commentaries interpret the word “gates” as a reference to the personal gates of the human body, the seven orifices which are a conduit to four of the five senses.

In his prominent work Shnei Luḥot HaBrit, Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1555-1630) quotes the Sefer Y’tzirah, the earliest extent book on Jewish mysticism which states that there are seven gates into a person—two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and a mouth. We must set guardians at the gates of our souls—our mouths so that we do not lie or speak malicious gossip, our ears so that we are not eager to hear malicious gossip, and our eyes so that we do not form the habit of seeing the worst in others. We must spend our time judging ourselves rather than others.

To further illustrate this point, the Rabbis also point to the seemingly superfluous word L’kha (“for you”) when the Torah could have simply stated “appoint judges and officers”. In addition to the need for society to have judges and officers, everyone must be both a judge and an officer over himself/herself constantly overseeing every action.

This past Sunday we began the month of Elul, a time when we begin what the Rabbis call Ḥeshbon Hanefesh, an accounting of our soul. It is a month of introspection when we recall our thoughts and actions over the past year and begin to seek Teshuvah, repentance. It is therefore very fitting that we began to read Parashat Shoftim at the same time we entered the month of Elul. It reminds us to be judges and officers over ourselves first before we face the Supreme Judge next month on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, watching our personal gates before we direct our prayers to the Heavenly Gates. 

Shabbat Shalom, Shanah Tovah and Ugmar Ḥatimah Tovah