Thursday, August 24, 2017

Parashat Shoftim and Entering Elul

            Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Shoftim, which is mostly about the ancient Israelites’ justice system, at least on the surface. It tells of judges, laws, rules of warfare, and the like.
            However, Shabbatai ben Meir HaKohen, a 17th century scholar and sage of Jewish law from the Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe, offers an interesting drash on the first line. The Torah tells us: “You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment.” On this, Shabbatai ben Meir HaKohen comments: “The human body is a city with seven gates—seven portals to the outside world: the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth. Here, too, it is incumbent upon us to place internal “judges” to discriminate and regulate what should be admitted and what should be kept out, and “officers” to enforce the judges’ decisions.”
            Now, as I was reading commentary on this week’s parasha, I was also cooking chicken parmesan, with lots of extra cheese, which is neither Kosher nor good for me. So coming across this was a good reminder to maybe plan for some healthier, holier dinners in the coming week. This past week, we entered Elul, the month leading up to the High Holy Day season, which begins with the first of Tishrei. It is traditional to blow the Shofar everyday throughout the month of Elul and start preparing oneself for the season of atonement and renewal. It’s a good time to pause and look at one’s life, to start thinking about what New Year’s Resolutions we should make this Rosh HaShanah and what we need to ask forgiveness for this Yom Kippur, including what we need to forgive ourselves for and what we need to turn to God for.
            This may well include, asking your body for forgiveness for putting too much delicious, gooey cheese into it, which you know your cholesterol medication can only do so much to combat, and pledging to have more discerning judgement in what you eat in the coming year. Just, you know, for example.
            This may mean taking stock of your words, what you’ve allowed to escape from the mouth-gate of your body-city, considering how you’ve hurt others, and pledging to judge your words more wisely in the coming year.
This may mean realizing you are not doing all you can to appreciate the world around you. Maybe you are working yourself too hard and you need to stop and smell the roses, literally and figuratively. Maybe you are reading too many reports of tragedies you are powerless to stop and you need to take a break to read some poetry or a good trashy novel.
Whatever it is, now is the time to do it. Notice in the coming month what you are taking in and what you are putting out into the world. How reliable are the judges at your gates? What do you need to do to strengthen them, to feel healthier and more satisfied with both your input and output? If you take this spiritual assessment here in Elul, your Tishrei will be much more successful.
May you have a blessed Elul, may your judgement be strong and righteous, and may your bodies be healthy and happy.

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