Last week we took a look at parasha (portion) Re’eh, (to see) as we looked ahead to the start of the month of Elul, which has now begun. This is the moedim or set time that G-d has set aside as the month of repentance. It is part of the 30 days leading up to the start of Rosh HaShanah (Feast of Trumpets) and 40 days from the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur. It is also interesting to note that these are the 40 days in which Yeshua (Jesus) was tempted in the wilderness by HaSatan (Satan).
Shoftim literally translates from the Hebrew as “judges.” We are going to look at a couple key ideas in the opening few verses of this week’s Torah portion.
Deuteronomy 16:18-22, “Shoftim and officers shall you make you in all your gates, which the L-RD your G-d gives you, according to your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not wrest justice: you shall not respect persons; neither shall you take a bribe; for a bribe does blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. 20 That which is altogether just shall you follow, that you may live, and inherit the land which the L-RD your G-d gives you. 21 You shall not plant you an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the L-RD your G-d, which you shall make you. 22 Neither shall you set yourself up a pillar; which the L-RD your G-d hates.”
In the plain sense of the text (pashat), it is clear that these are instructions being given to the people prior to them entering into the Promised Land. The ordering of judges and officers at the gates was intended to have the people have a form of government whereby disputes and controversies that may arise among the people could be resolved.
There were admonitions as to the type and character of these governmental officials in order to avoid impropriety with respect to their rulings.
It is important to understand that many find it easy to pass over or ignore instructions such as are found here and think them irrelevant. After all, we are not moving to Israel and there is no Temple set up.
The fact is that these words are highly relevant to us regardless of where, or when we live as the Word of G-d is alive, and deep and full of applicable truth if you know how to look.
The sages point out that on a deeper level, placing judges at your gates can be interpreted as follows. The word “your” can be applied in the plural sense. For example, when addressing a crowd you could say that “your study of the Word is admirable.” In this sense, the compliment is aimed at everyone present. Likewise, if you had an audience of one person and said the exact same words then the word “your” takes on the singular intent.
So now we can begin to understand that there is a personal application here. The sages point out and describe 7 gates that we personally have into our “hearts.” In the past, we have talked about 4 of them in the forms of our eye gates and our ear gates. Appointing judges and officers at our gates calls to us to be careful and judge that which we allow into our minds and hearts. We are to judge carefully what we allow ourselves to see and hear. We do this because whatever we choose to allow to be planted in the garden of our minds will eventually bear fruit! Therefore, we ought to take great care in ensuring that only allow those things which are pure, holy and of good report.
This year, I will add only one more gate, that being the gate of the mouth. While the mouth can certainly be a gateway into the body inasmuch as we take in food. We ought to guard our mouth gate in that HaShem (YHVH) was very specific and thorough to explain to us that which is Kosher (food) and profitable for us to consume as well as He pointed out very specific as to things which are not considered food and are therefore not profitable for us to consume.
While this is true, I will focus on the mouth-gate and how it ought to be judged with respect to what we allow out of our mouths!
You probably already see where this is going. We should take great care to ensure that we speak only those things which are pure, holy and of good report. Just the same as what we allow into our hearts should be the same that we allow to flow out of us. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. During this month of Elul, we should Re’eh (see or inspect) that the fruit that is borne out of our mouths lines up with all that Torah teaches. If we find ourselves to be lacking in this area, we ought to take full advantage of this time that the King is in the field to cry out in repentance. Teshuva, typically translated as repentance is also interesting and I want to interject a little tidbit for you here. Repentance is NOT turning from sin per se. It certainly involves that. But, true repentance is not turning from sin where “sin” is the focus, but it is turning TOWARDS G-d. In the latter, our focus is a return to G-d and His Way. Just a little different way to think of repentance especially at this time. Let us all return to G-d quickly!
One final thing I’ll point out is the seemingly odd mentioning of not planting a tree by the altar. What is that all about?
Specifically, this speaks to two things, well, better said at LEAST two things.
First, this is speaking to the ashtoreth tree that was so commonly in use in pagan worship. It was forbidden on one level because G-d hates this practice and hates when His people incorporate the things of the pagan world and incorporate them with worship of HaShem (YHVH). For more on this, read the first 17 verses of Isaiah chapter 1.
On a more easily applicable level, this tree is relatable to the judges themselves. You see the ashtoreth tree was a tall and beautiful tree to look at, but it is a tree that bears no fruit! The judges at the altar and indeed the judges we personally appoint at our “gates” need to bear fruit. We ought not to only do or say things for “show.” Our efforts need to truly be efforts and if we are sincere then the King is close by, especially this time of year to help us to bear fruit and experience life-transforming change.
Yeshua warned similarly in Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, Sofrim and Perushim, hypocrites! For you are like whitened tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”