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Shoftim - Checks and Balances

09/06/12 19:43:09


This week's Dvar Torah is sponsored by Perry Grossman in honor of his niece Rivka Green on her marriage to Shmuli Davidowitz.

San Diego is a beloved city for many reasons: not only does San Diego have the best weather in the world, beautiful beaches, lots of sun and fun, but also has an incredible atmosphere of acceptance. The city embraces a variety of nationalities from all over the world. I feel there is religious tolerance among the major religions and genuine mutual respect which gives this second most populous city in California a warm, small-town feeling not typically evident in a large city.

Everything said so far not only applies to the general population at large but also to the Jewish community of San Diego as well. The San Diego Jewish community is not large but not small either; I categorize it as a second- tier city. Our inner- circle community, Beth Jacob is also diversified. We strive to make it a place where everyone can feel comfortable and at ease. With that said, there are also pitfalls to be wary of when life is too comfortable. The phrase "keeping up with the Jones's" usually carries a negative connotation. We tend to to try to live up to a certain lifestyle amongst our peers. I believe that there is some benefit to the phrase when viewed in the spiritual rather than the physical context.

Many people feel spiritually comfortable in San Diego. This is particularly true within the Beth Jacob community. The level of 'frumkeit' is not challenged and there is no pressure by the Schwartzes or the Goldmans to do more or to raise the bar a little higher. This can be good, but it can also be bad if it leads people to drop their level of observance over time. Every individual, every couple and every family come to the Shul with a certain level of commitment and fulfillment. If this is not nurtured and fed it will begin to fade. As the old saying goes, 'if you're not going up then you're going down'. It is not possible to remain at the same level without working towards a higher goal.

Maintenance is one of the greatest challenges facing man. Maintaining the exact speed of a car requires constant adjustments to the gas and the brake, depending upon the conditions of the road. The road - or the path of life - is never straight. It goes up, down to the left and the right, requiring constant adjustments of the speed of the car. Sustaining spirituality is no different than maintaining the speed of a car. There are times we need to give more gas and put more effort into mitzvos and Torah because we might feel ourselves slipping. Some people are in overdrive and need to slow down a little to avoid burning themselves out. Sadly, I have seen both scenarios where people go too fast and crash, and more commonly, where individuals slipped greatly in their service to Hashem.

The beginning of this week's parsha Shoftim begins "Shoftim V'Shotrim Titen L'cha B'chal Sh'arecha"... judges and officers you shall place in all of your gates. The word 'Lecha' always means for your good and for your benefit. The Sifri expounds that it is worth having officers and judges watching over the Jews in order to keep them straight and maintain them on their land. It is the judges, the officers and the like who keep us doing what we are supposed to do and who maintain the balance necessary to serve Hashem. Our yetzer hara tries to convince us that we don't need these people to look over our shoulders that we can manage by ourselves without their help. We can't judge ourselves because we are too close to the situation. We are 'nogeia b'davar'.Only an outsider looking in can be objective and tell us what and how we should behave. We cannot measure our own lives; we need to measure against something else. If we choose an outsider to view us and report to us about ourselves then that will be a great benefit to us. Having that peer pressure for us to measure against can help us, benefitting our spiritual development.

A few verses later the Torah tells us do not alter judgment, not to show favoritism and not to take a bribe. Besides the actual or simple understanding of these laws relating to a physical judge, it is also a warning to the judge within ourselves. It is easy for us to alter the judgment by rationalizing why we should or should not do something. We should not show favoritism to others. Finally, refusing to take a bribe doesn't only mean a financial bribe. It also means that we should not bribe ourselves into believing that what we are doing is always right or justified. The flow and the theme speaks not only of the actual physical officers and judges; it speaks to a deeper level to our own egos.

The gates of our homes are being left unattended and without officers or guards. Many of us at one time had these guards and officers but unfortunately we've been bribed by our subconscious and abandoned the many good and meaningful practices that we used to do. The families which have let their guards leave are suffering, and they don't even know it. They are on course leading to destruction of any remaining remnant of a true Bayis Neeman B'Yisrael. Fortunately for those wise individuals who welcome the criticism and the pressure from the outside, they have maintained a house of sanctity and purity.

As we continue to get closer to the new year, we should look to hire the officers and guards to ensure the balance we need in our lives.. Outside pressures will force us to maintain a good, serious, pious life. Each of us needs to reinforce and refocus our commitment to climb to ever higher spiritual levels.

Ah Gut Shabbos Rabbi Avram Bogopulsky
Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780