Shoftim: Who Judges Us: Or…Where Is That Still Small Voice When I Need It?

We greet, this Shabbat, one of the more famous portions, Shoftim. (Deut. [16:18]-21:9) It is a jammed packed portion containing references on how to pick a king, warnings against worshipping posts, stars and spirits, and the declaration in the beginning of the portion on picking judges. It is in that opening section that we find one of the most quoted texts (Deut.[16:20]) “tzedek tzedek tirdof” (justice, justice, shall you pursue). This phrase has been used as a basis for the social justice bent of much of Jewish life. Yet, I want to look for us at the opening of the portion and the use of the word “you”. “You shall appoint judges and officers over you” ([16:18]). Now the text refers to the need for the Israelites to appoint such people to administer laws and ordinances. Fine, no problem. But, I ask you to play with that word “you” just for a second. Torah, as I believe, is often symbolic language. Maybe that “you” is not the people, but, the “you” that is in us.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski, in his book of commentary called “Living each Week” (Art Scroll) looks at this word in a very personal manner. He notes in his comments that the word you and the word yourself are written in the singular. He notes that this, then, is not just a communal mitzvah, “but also an order to each individual to develop a “judge” and an “enforcing officer” within himself. Every person has the obligation to sit in judgement on his own actions” (p. 407)
Let me suggest that this is something that we become more aware of as we grow older. Some may call it conscience, or soul, or the voice of mom or dad, or, as the we read in the Prophets, the “kol dimahmah” (the still small voice) that rests within each of us. This is our own internal moral compass. We can look back on our own life and see the moments when we “judged” our self falsely. We “bribed” our self to believe one thing or another, knowing in s ome recess of our soul, that we were acting vainly. How many times have we “bribed” our self? You may know the phrases we used: “I can change her”, “he’s not that bad”, “how bad can this new situation be”, and so on!
The Twerski comment seems especially important now, as we enter the month of Ellul and are asked to turn to consider the power of the High Holidays. How we judge our self, our life and how we judge the choices we will make in our future are serious considerations. How much more important, then, is that other phrase, that we make sure that we judge our self through the prism of justice, and in doing so, reap the benefit of holiness.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min

About Rabbi Richard Address 424 Articles
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.

1 Comment

  1. Observing one’s own actions and contemplating their effects on self and others gives us feedback as to whether future change would be beneficial. Our actions positive or negative may lead to repeating them. They can become habitual. At the same time, harsh self judgement can be as destructive as harshly judging others. It is as important to forgive ourselves as forgiving others so long as we truly seek self change. Others need to do the same. Our true selves, our souls, are pure. Seeking our true selves should be an important part of life’s journey.

    Dr Nathan Freed

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