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Home » Free Choice, Shoftim

Shoftim: Guard Your Integrity

Submitted by on August 19, 2017 – 11:12 pmNo Comment | 2,618 views


The Torah tells us to post judges and guardians at the gates of our cities and “Eradicate evil from amongst you”.[1] We are taught that this rule applies not only to the city but also to the person. Every person is like a city; our limbs are the citizens, our portals–eyes, ears, nose, and mouth–are the gates and the evil inclination against whom we place guardians at our gates are like the enemy that threatens the city’s integrity.[2]

The evil inclination seeks to trap us into selfishness, and sinfulness. It’s most effective tools are mediums like anger, greed, and sadness. Especially sadness, as the famous adage of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bardichev, “sadness is not a sin, but what sadness undoes no sin can undo”.

G-d, our Creator, constantly infuses us with creative energy, channeled first and foremost into our hearts. If we are in a state of joy, the sacred energy flows through us unmolested. If our hearts are burdened by selfishness or sadness, the divine flow of energy is barred entry. Just like the falling rain is only beneficial to the crop if the farmer plows and plants, so does the divine flow of energy only uplift and inspire us if our hearts have been cleansed.


To protect against the self absorption that leads to depression and sin, G-d instructs us to post guardians at the entrances of our city. There are four portals through which our mindset is impacted, eyes, ears, nose and mouth. We must post guardians at each of these entrances to ensure that what comes in and what comes out is kosher.

We have complete control over what enters our eyes, ears, nose and mouth. We need only assert it by remaining constantly alert to our surroundings and guarding against trespass. Temptation comes in many forms, many of which appear innocent on the surface. It strikes with lightening speed and before we bat an eyelash, it worms its way inside. But we mustn’t delude ourselves into thinking that we have no choice. The Torah reminds us that we can control the strongest temptations. If only we choose to.


What we see imprints on our psyche and arises when we least expect it. We might have thought that we had long forgotten an old painful or inappropriate image, but when we least expect it, it crops back up.

We need not go further than the influence of our youth. Children who saw their parents respond to domestic pressure with anger and abuse, resort to it themselves when they face pressure. Growing up, they are cognizant of all the mistakes their parents made, and yet, when they are in similar circumstances, they revert to what they saw in their youth. What we see leaves a deep-seated impact.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we don’t look where we shouldn’t, we won’t see the images that can hurt us. On the other hand, if we look where we should, we will imprint positive healthy images on our psyche and they will come to our aid when we need them most.

Another rule about sight is not to commit visual trespass. When we happen to catch another in what should have been a private moment, we should feel an instinctive sense of shame at having violated a boundary inadvertently. We must know that what belongs to others is sacred, and that we cannot gaze at it without permission. When we make light of visual trespass and gaze at others freely, we increase our selfishness. When we look away after inadvertently violating a boundary, we decrease our selfishness.

By giving us two eyelids, an upper and a lower, G-d made it easy for us to close our eyes, whenever it becomes necessary.


If sight imprints on our psyche, sound is more obvious; it imprints directly on our conscious minds. What we hear, we contemplate and what we contemplate affects the purity of our perceptions and thoughts. When we hear gossip, our minds fill with negativity. When we listen to music or stories filled with violence, lust or self absorption, it impacts the way we think; it taints our mental process.

On the other hand, when we listen to words of Torah and prayer, we sanctify the mind and cleanse our mental process. In fact, when we hear a Torah thought that we already heard before, we should listen even more attentively than we would had we never heard it before. This way, G-d will respond to our prayers with alacrity, even though He has heard them all before.


The gate with the least intuitive impact on our integrity is fragrance. On the surface, aroma does little to affect our moral compass and spiritual integrity. Yet fragrance has the deepest impact on us. Fragrance can trigger emotions buried so deep in our subconscious that we can hardly identify them. Sight triggers memories, but fragrance triggers something much deeper. A mood, a feeling, an aura.

Certain aromas can help us regress to infancy and relive those experiences on a subliminal level. Aromas can trigger a compelling sense of Deja vu without us being able to identify its source. It can also bring back powerful memories and leave us feeling as if we were back inside them.

If fragrance is so powerful and reaches so deeply then it goes without saying that we must be discerning about the aromas that we allow ourselves to smell. Non-kosher aromas embed within our subconscious and erode our spiritual integrity from within.


Speech is critical not so much for what comes in, but for what comes out. Sights, sounds and smells, only impact us. But speech impacts the world; once we let it loose on the world, we can never take it back. Whether it is slander or hate speech, incitement or debauchery, our speech affects others.

This is especially poignant when we realize that G-d created the world through speech. The divine words of creation are channeled through the words that we say. When we speak well of others and retain the integrity of our words, the world is positively impacted. Speech is also the medium through which we relate to G-d in prayer and Torah study. If we retain the sacred integrity of our words, our mouths will be proper mediums through which to channel the words of Torah and prayer that bind us to G-d.[3]

As this year draws to a close, may we succeed in controlling the traffic that passes through our portals. This way, the upload and download links between us and society, will only carry healthy information.

[1] Deuteronomy 16:18 and 17:7.

[2] MIshlei Rabbah 9:15. See also Or Hachayim Deuteronomy 13:6.

[3] This essay is based on Toras Menachem, 57:304 and Reishis Chochmoh, Shaar Hakedusha, 7-10.