Beautiful Spiritual Art by Michelle Katz

This week’s music: Yehudah Katz Loving Life

This world of ours is so filled with challenges. Related to what I had written last week, if I constantly back into my decisions, if I choose not to acknowledge the challenges and the deep life lessons that come along with them, then perhaps I miss out on the clues, the messages which shape the true direction that I need to follow in order to arrive to the place where I have clarity as to why my soul was sent to this world.

This week’s “Parsha of Shoftim” is filled with directives that cross over to our three most important relationships in life, as the Mahral teaches us, my relationship with myself, with my friends and with my Creator.

Let’s start with the One which is above all. “Tami th’yeh im Hashem Elohecha,” you should be simply pure with Hashem your God (Devraim 18.13). We are so fortunate that every step of the journey we have someone to fall back on. To place my trust in Hashem, I place myself in a situation where on one hand, I don’t necessarily know where I am going, on the other hand I have full trust that I am being watched over and protected all of the way (Tehilim 121). If I need to be in this world, I need to carry on with “t’mimut,” simply purity and not try to outsmart that which was laid out for me to experience. As Rashi says, I simply accept what Hashem gave me today, I don’t need to then worry about what the future will bring. I go with that which was clearly put in front of my eyes at this moment.

Then there’s the aspect of judging. “Parshat Shoftim” always comes back to us at the end of the year as we prepare for our annual “Yom Hadin,” judgement day, “Rosh Hashanah.” “Din” can be harsh or, if approached with love and reverence, can be sweetened.

This week’s Torah portion , “Judges,” speaks of the B’nai Yisrael setting up a justice system by appointing judges and police officers. “Shoftim v’shotrim titen l’cha b’chol sharecha,” you should place judges and officers in all of your gates….to you in all of your gates. (Devarim16.18) Interestingly, while the statement seems to be made to all of “B’nai Yisrael” the words “to you in all of your gates” are written in the singular tense. This implies, teach many of our Chassidic Masters, that we as individuals need to place our own personal judgment and policing on our own thoughts, hearts and behavior.

Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev adds a beautifully applicable perspective of this verse and concept of life.

“When the time comes that God is judging all of Israel, He of course is doing so with great mercy, but still there is a need for the heavens to receive an awakening from below.” We need to cause reason for the heightening of God’s mercy towards us. “How can this awakening of kindness happen? asks Reb Levi Yitzchak.” Obviously when we act with kindness and love towards each other. Am I looking at you with eyes that are looking to specifically see the good in you? This kind of behavior can then strengthen God’s desire to bring only blessing to all of Israel.

This is the meaning of you placing judges in all of your gates. By my fixing myself, I can affect the judgment above for everyone through my kind and loving actions. If we can all learn to judge everyone with selfless righteous holy judgment, “teaches Reb Levi Yitzchak,” then we awaken that same judgment from Hashem above.

The month of “Elul,” “ani ledodi v’dodi li,” I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me, has begun. As we approach our collective and individual judgment day let’s each of us cause the sweetest judgment we can imagine for everyone.

Reb Levi Yitzchak reminds us that “a person is measured by the way he measures others.” How can I expect receive such a gift of sweetness? Clearly by making every effort to constantly be chasing after righteousness in my world. The command of “Tzedek tzedek tirdof,” you should consistently chase after righteousness, (Devraim 16.20) is not only reserved for official court judges. I too need to always be seeing my situations and the people involved with me, only with eyes that are looking for the good. This kind of behavior can mamash fix the world.

This time of year I am often reminded of the famous story (Zevin- Chassidic Stoires) about Reb Yitzchak Vorka when he was a young newly married student of Reb Dovid of Lolev. The coming Rosh Hashanah was perhaps to be the last of Reb Dovid’s Rebbe, The Great Chozeh ( Seer) of Lublin. Each year thousands of “chassidim” prayed with The Chozeh, but this year the list of invitees was very limited due to the Rebbe’s health. Reb Dovid saw to it that his young student, Yitzchokel would be present as well. After the evening prayers on the first night, Yitzchok approached The Rebbe to bless him with a “Shanah tovah tikatevu,” a year when he will once again be written into the book of “Tzadikim.”

The Rebbe asked his name and inquired as to which area of study Yitzchak was involved in prior to the holiday. I am studying the topic of “family witnesses.” “Perhaps you have a ‘chidush,’ a new thought to share with me,” The Chozeh asked. Yitzchak was sure that he had nothing new to share with The Rebbe, but he did have a question. I can understand why the Talmud needs to teach us that a father , child or brother is not allowed to testify on behalf of a next of kin. After all, which father would want to see his son sent to jail. Perhaps a father might bend the truth to spare his son of the worldly punishment. However, I cannot understand why the Talmud needs to add that a father or son are not permitted to testify against their next of kin. Is it possible that there is one such person who would be willing to testify against his brother?”

The Chozeh promptly fell into a meditative state right in front of Yitzchak’s eyes. When he returned to reality 5 minutes later he opened his eyes and said, “Yitzchak” I have just visited the worlds above. The heavenly court was sitting together and were ready to place a severe judgement against “Am Yisrael,” but as a result of your innocent, sweet loving question, all of the judgments were immediately sweetened.

As a result, Baruch Hashem, many of our brothers and sisters have invested in their personal character to always be looking for ways to unite us together, to achieve a level of “achdut Yisrael,” unity among our nation, that Hahsem will receive as a sign that indeed we do have a great desire for there to be Peace during our time in this world.

What if someone makes it clear he has no interest in “achdut,” brotherhood. “Forget it! I am not allowing myself to be taken over by your kind. Don’t assume that I want to be united with you.”

This week I had the “zchut” to participate in a day of learning with Reb Yitzchak Marmorstein at Beit Harav Kook, dedicated to the memory of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first chief Rabbi ( 1921-1935) of modern day Israel. In his unique book of spiritual poetry, Rav Kook seems to relate to that exact question.

“v’ish et achiv lo hikir,” if a man does not know his brother
“ki ach et ach hadaf v’dachaf,” so brothers begin to push each other away
“kulam yachad b’kirbah yizr’chu,” all of us together, on the inside we will shine
as the poem continues if we see that someone is adamant not to participate in the circle of friendship all I can do is simply create the circle close by and perhaps someday he will see its beauty.

Then there is my relationship of me and myself. “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof.” In just a few weeks, we will all be standing at that crossroads of “din” and will ask “the king who wants life,” to be written in the book of life.”

What’s life if I don’t experience the blessing? Why sell myself short without spiritually, intellectually and emotionally investing in the awareness and receiving of my personal blessing. Am I ready to make myself a candidate to be written into the book of life of tzadikim? Am I ready to undertake a life of tzedek, righteousness in every moment of the day? If that sounds like the magnanimous feat that it is meant to be, can’t I at least want and desire to be worthy of being there? If I do that, perhaps I can connect to the blessing of “simplicity,” of “tamim t’hyeh im Hashem Elokecha,” and receive the humble confidence that indeed I can be worthy.

Since each one of us wants a merciful and loving “judgement” to come from above, we each need to find our new starting point every new day. We need to look for the “nekudah,” source of love in our hearts.

Then perhaps all we need to do is awaken that love by looking favorably on every one we meet. By going to the end of ends to find that one aspect of someone that is perhaps hidden from some, but so beautiful and strong when you finally find it.

May we be blessed to invest eternal energy in finding that “nekudat chen,” element of grace in everyone, without exception.

Shabbat Shalom,
Yehudah