This article was printed in the Cleveland Jewish News.
Picture it, you are part of the new generation of Jew. Your parents were among those who experienced the 10 plagues, left Egypt, walked through the sea and stood at Mount Sinai. They were also with those who participated in the Golden Calf and followed the ill-fated advice of the spies. They died in the desert.
You will enter the land of Israel. Before that will happen, Moshe, the leader of the Jews, is giving you his last will in testament over the course of five weeks. This testament is being recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, which will become the final book of the Bible. Every statement spoken is solid gold, filled with timeless guidance for the entire Jewish people.
This is where we find ourselves in this week’s parsha, Shoftim. Right in the beginning of the sedra, we are taught a lesson that is both timeless and timely. Timeless in its eternal meaning and timely in that we are one week into the month of Elul, the month where we spiritually prepare for the year ahead through self introspection and goal setting.
The first verse reads:
“Place judges and guards for yourself on all your gates (Deuteronomy 16:18).” The 18th-century scholar, R’ Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, known by the acronym ChYDA, offers a homiletic explanation of this commandment. He writes a person has many “gates” in their body: gates of seeing (eyes), gates of hearing (ears), gates of smelling (nose), gates of speaking (mouth) and gates of feeling (hands).
One must place judges and guards over these gates to protect what enters them and what they are used for. We are solely responsible for our actions and we must put up the personal safeguard that we need to protect ourselves from that which can bring us down. During this month of Elul, let us take this lesson to heart and build ourselves into better people.