Community Rabbi Corner, Sept. 6, 2019

Rabbi Ari Lucas
Congregation Agudath Israel
Caldwell, NJ
Parashat Shoftim

At my children’s Early Childhood Center, they taught the students a mantra that they could recite whenever they feel angry. The children would repeat the words, “Peace starts with me,” slowly and with an accompanying hand motion. The practice itself was calming, but I found the message important for children of all ages (and even adults) to learn - that if we wish to see peace in the world, it has to start with us. 
The same is true of justice. If we wish to build a just society, it must start with just individuals. The opening line of Parshat Shoftim reads: “Shoftim v’shotrim titein lekha b’khol she’arekha - you shall appoint judges and officers for you at all of your gates.” (Deut 16:18) Ostensibly, this verse contains instructions for how to set up a proper system of justice for a society, but many commentators see in it instructions for the individual.
For example, the Shelah (Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz - 16th - 17th c. Prague) suggests that the “gates” referred to are not the gates of the city, but the gates of the human body - the eyes, the ears and the mouth. We are instructed to place officers at each of these openings to guard what comes out and discern what comes in. Words of love and kindness should ever be on our lips, and we should receive news with a generous spirit and an open mind and heart. 
What these commentators are teaching us is that justice starts with me and you. Often we can be frustrated with the lack of justice in society as a whole, and we ought to do what we can to improve those systems. But you can pursue justice today by considering how you can guard your eyes, ears and mouth to be instruments of fairness and respect. If we can make ourselves more committed to justice in our interpersonal relationships, then perhaps we can transform the world from the inside out.