0 Posted by - August 28, 2014 - Devarim, Parsha


Parashat Shoftim

There is an amazing story I told my young daughters at bedtime last week.

The Baal Shem Tov, the Father of Chassidut, was a man of miracles. He saw into the future, and through walls. A very holy man. He had a student, Yossele. Yossele, would learn and pray with the Baal Shem, daily. He was a dedicated student, and revered his Rebbe greatly. But, Yossele also liked money.

The richest Jew in town, a pious Jew, had an only child. A daughter. Yossele visited this man in his house/office numerous times, for a loan and for some business advice.  He walked in through the fancy gates, waved to the guards and walked past the big dogs, and he knew how to get from the front door to the office, which was adjacent to the master bedroom. And, he even noticed, as he sat in the office with the rich man, where the rich man kept his money. He knew where the safe was. One day, that man died. He left all of his money, his fancy house, with the guards and the dogs, to his only daughter. A few years passed…

Yossele had been out of cash for some time now. He could not get a loan from anyone. He lay in bed, and could not sleep. He looked at his pocket watch. 2:30 AM. He had just dreamt of having all the money of that rich man who died, and his dream felt so real. He got up and left his simple apartment to go for a midnight walk. Everything was quiet. He walked to the edge of town, to the gates of the rich man’s house. The big gates were open a crack. He stepped inside. He looked around and scanned the estate. The guards were snoozing. The dogs, wagging their tails. He walked right passed them, up to the front door. He checked the doorknob, and the door opened as if it had been waiting for him….. Everything  was suspended in the peaceful sleep of night…except for Yossele. He tiptoed passed the main bedroom, and heard the rich daughter snoring softly as he quickly walked up to the office and over to the safe. The safe was open!

Yossele looked wide-eyed at the bars of gold. He looked at the cash, at the bank notes. And then, suddenly, he heard someone talking to him. “Yossele, what are you doing here? You are the student of the great Baal Shem Tov, and it is beneath your dignity to steal.” He stood there, shaking, as he realized that it was his own voice talking. “Yossele, get out of here, before it will be too late, and you will do something that you will regret!” Yossele ran out of the house, faster than he had ever run in his life.

White as a ghost, Yossele sat on his bed. He could not sleep. He waited for Shacharit, and was the first one in Shul. As he prayed, wide eyed, he felt something vibrating ( before the invention of the cellphone); his heart was beating at a frightening pace. He sat down to learn after prayers, without eating breakfast. He learnt half way through the morning hours, and then, a fellow student of the Baal Shem notified him that the Rebbe was waiting for him in his office.

Oh, no! Oh, no! He walked into the office, whiter than he had been the night before. He sat down and looked at the floor. The Baal Shem asked him, in a gentle, silken voice, “Yossele, did you ever get to know the rich man who used to live in the house at the edge of town, the one with the big gates, guards and dogs?”  Yossele nodded, as he continued  to look at the floor. He could hear his heart pounding. “Yossele, are you aware of the fact that he had an only daughter, who inherited all of his wealth, including the big house?” Just as he was about to faint, Yossele hear his own voice asking himself, “the one who snores softly?”.

“Yossel’e, this morning the rich daughter visited my office.” Yossel’e wanted the wood floor to swallow him, just to save him from continuing the conversation.“She would like to marry one of my students and support him, so that he can learn and grow to become a great Rabbi. She is a pious young woman, and she would like to marry a student that is honest and would never steal.   Even under a test.  Yossele, I thought about you. Would you like to marry this woman, so that you can stay as a faithful student and learn for many more years without financial worries? Yossele, can I rely on you, that you won’t steal, even if you need the money?”

Yossele, met the woman, married her, and lived happily ever after, becoming a great Rabbi. Moral of the story:  if G-d wants you to be rich, you will be rich. So, why steal money that G-d will make yours anyway?

My daughters could not believe the story. But Abba, Yossele is a thief!! How did the Rebbe suggest that the daughter of the rich man marry a thief?!?  I answered my daughters, that a thief is someone who steals money. Not someone who slipped to temptation and walked around the rich man’s house, like a thief. Yossele did not steal, and despite the fact that he  acted as a thief, he wasn’t one.

To repent, we need to stop giving ourselves labels. Here are some of them.  I am not that religious. Or, I am not an early riser. I don’t keep Shabbat. Etc. Removing these labels is the first step we need to take in order to change. We need to view our sins not as an identity, but as mistakes that can be corrected.


שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך

Appoint judges and enforcement officers for yourself in all your gates…(Devarim 16:18)

R’ Chaim Vital writes that these words refer not only to society as a whole, but also to the individual on a personal level. This is based on the surprising grammatical form of the term לך,  for yourself – singular rather than plural – as well as the fact that the term itself is seemingly superfluous. It emerges that the Torah is commanding a person to judge himself and his actions. In order to do this, he must have self-awareness. Indeed, the Chafetz Chaim commented: “The greatest חשבון  (reckoning) that we will ultimately have to make on the Day of Judgment is why we lived our life without a proper חשבון .”

Now, how are we to relate to the fact that many therapists discourage self-judgment?  They fear that questions like “How could I have been so foolish?” could lead to depression.

The answer is this: Self-judgment does not necessarily mean judging our self-worth, potential, or intellect. Self-judgment that leads us to think that we are not worth anything is definitely counterproductive. There is, however, great value in assessing whether or not we are behaving according to our real worth, potential, or intellect. In contrast to judgment of self-worth, judgment of behavior is not limited to the past; it includes the present and future as well.  Focusing on ourselves as people with tremendous power and potential despite our failures can give us greater clarity of judgment and better results. Even after accepting ourselves as worthy, there is still plenty of room for judgment – not only after our actions, but during and before them as well. Allow me to elaborate.

The Shlah Hakadosh writes that a person has seven openings – or gates – in the body: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and a mouth. Through these gates, we relate to the world around us. And that is why it is so important to post שופטים  and שוטרים  (judges and “police”) there. The brain receive information, and respond to the information received through these gates both emotionally and intellectually. We must keep in mind, though, that our emotions and intellect respond to the impulses generated by the information in fixed – almost “programmed” – ways. The place where this programming goes on is in the mind and heart. These two organs, the mind and heart, must be the שופטים  and שוטרים over the “gates of the body”. The responsibility of the intellect and the emotions is to constantly improve and clarify perception, which ultimately improves our behavior and actions.

Let us take, for example, the Torah prohibition of lashon hara (speaking ill of others), a subject to which the Chafetz Chaim devoted an entire book, Sefer Chafetz Chaim. In addition, he also authored a fantastic work ,unfortunately less known, called Shaar Hatvunah on the same subject. In that sefer, he addresses how to deal with the problem of lashon hara from a Mussar (introspective) point of view. The Chafetz Chaim writes that by working on behavioral patterns, perception, and self-control, one can stop lashon hara cold turkey.

Let us picture, for a moment, someone who speaks lashon hara, but later does some introspection (“self-judgment”) and regrets his words. One utilizing positive self-judgment does not conclude that he is wicked because he did not care about the prohibition of the Torah. Rather, he realizes that the reason he spoke negatively of others was because he did not change his behavioral patterns or perceptions. The person realizes that his behavior does not befit his values and beliefs. The words spoken might have flowed from impulse or lack of awareness, and not from a desire to harm another’s self-image. In contrast, negative self-judgment would be to judge oneself as evil for speaking lashon hara.

In short, proper self-judgment can be the best way to make us happier people over the long term, and the best way to use these days of Elul properly as well. If it is misused, however, it can be our greatest enemy at a time of year when we cannot afford the depression it causes.

No comments

Leave a reply