This week, I study with a prayer the terrible fires in California will end soon.
This week, in parasha Shoftim, Moses teaches the Children of Israel about law and leadership.
There are laws about avoiding the practices of idol worshipers, such as creating “sacred” trees and pillars, laws about avoiding false prophets, appointing a king, and setting aside tithes to provide a living for the priests who will not have an inheritance of land. He describes the three cities of refuge where a person who has accidentally killed someone can live safely without being pursued by the victim’s relatives, and the punishment of someone who kills a person on purpose. Moses explains the laws of warfare, including how the Israelites are to offer peace to a city before besieging it.
The opening sentence of the parasha has a very important lesson for us: “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your gates (sharecha).” Rashi and most other authorities interpret the word sharecha not as “gates” but as “cities”. One explanation is that the leaders of each community met at the gates of their city to be close to the people and available to judge their disputes, so the “gates” refers to the place where the leaders and judges met in each city.
Using the interpretation of sharecha as “gates” the Siftei Kohen (Shabbatai ben Meir Kohen, 1621-1663) offered an interpretation that suggests the mitzvah is also directed at every person. He pointed out that our body is like a city with seven gates – two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and a mouth. This interpretation means that every person should have internal judges for what he or she sees, hears and speaks.
Our internal judges should try to sympathetically understand everything we see and hear, and counsel us to speak with respect and compassion.