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Parashat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

And you shall not erect for yourselves a pillar, which the Lord your God hates.” (Deut. 16:22)

Parashat Shoftim opens with the command, “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your cities-which God gives to you-for your tribes…” (Deut. 16:18). It turns out this is the most observed of all the Torah’s commandments…but not in a good way.

Alan Morinis (1949-; Rhodes Scholar, anthropologist, filmmaker, writer, and founder of the Mussar Institute) observes the human tendency to measure and evaluate each person we meet-even before we know anything about them. And because we always are measuring, the other person often falls short: too tall, too thin, too loud, too this, too that. Since measuring is just another word for judging, the real question is who appointed you judge?

This judging attitude negates the principle of k’vod habriyot, honoring of all creation. People are to be honored not for any achievement, but because each individual is God’s handiwork. Morinis posits we persist in impulsive, negative judging because we’re projecting our own worries about how we ourselves measure up. Knocking someone down becomes a way to build ourselves up. The rabbis understand this trait and explain the real way to attract honor is to honor others (Pirkei Avot 4:1). The rabbis also provide an example of how to fulfill this principle: “…Be the first to greet each person…” (Pirkei Avot 4:15). Just saying, “Hello, how are you?” makes a difference.

Demonstrating behaviorally an eagerness to engage with another person influences our feelings about them and preempts the urge to judge. It’s a simple enough way to fulfill the second half of Shoftim’s opening charge: “…judge the people with righteous judgment…” (Deut. 16:18) in a very good way.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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