Parsha Shoftim (Judges) tells us: “You shall place Judges and [judicial] enforcers at all your city gates…” (Deuteronomy16:18). This is also interpreted as applying to each individual as well, since each of us is a small city (Ecclesiastics 9:14).

How do we know what is true, what is real and by what standards we are to live our lives? By giving the gift of the Torah, G-d gave mankind a standard of objective values that is applicable to all situations and to every place.

We need to judge, to discern, to know what is the right action and what is not; what is good and what is evil. Everyone needs to observe himself and his society to evaluate critically what conduct the Torah shows us and whether it is being lived.

When we know what is true and right we can choose our behavior accordingly. The gates of the city must be protected so that the good city’s just values and appropriate conduct will be protected from intruding foreign influences. This is true not only for cities but also for our own homes and personal environment as well. 

On the level of the individual, the human body is called a small city, with seven gates to the outside world: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth. We need to have our inner adult who acts as a judge, guiding us to discriminate and regulate what should be let in and what should be kept out. Our inner child needs to be raised to go beyond the naturally wild and selfish behavior of a small person who has no idea of what is right and wrong.

There are people who feel that it is altogether not right to judge. That is true, to a point; the concept needs to be clarified. Every one of us needs to discern and judge in order to know what in our society, in our personal environment and in our own lives is correct behavior according to the Torah. In living this way we elevate ourselves and our surroundings.

Yet “Ethics of the Father” quotes Hillel as saying “Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.” None of us can truly understand why a person behaves as he does. We don’t know what in his life or education, etc. affected him and his choices. But Hillel tells us that we can and should accept the individual, even without condoning his behavior. Although we don’t judge him, we must be clear about the nature of his behavior and not justify it.

When we work on ourselves, trying to grow to a higher level, we elevate ourselves, our actions, and the world around us. We can transcend the human ideas of good and the natures we are born with. We can live as human beings in the highest sense of the word with developed characters. In that way we can be a light to those around us, sharing Torah and fulfilling G-d’s plan for each of us and for the world.
Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Mendel Schusterman

Thanks to my Ema, Mrs. Chana Rochel Schusterman, for sharing the above Torah thought