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Wednesday, Elul 4, 5779 / September 4, 2019


This week's Parsha, Shoftim, begins with the mitzvah of appointing judges and officers to ensure a just and rightful judicial system.  The Parsha begins, "Judges and officers you shall appoint for you in all your gates, which the L-rd your G-d gives to your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. Justice, justice you shall follow.”


Our rabbis explain that the Torah commands to appoint judges, “in all your gates," which means in every city. This will ensure that the judicial system is accessible to everyone and remains uncluttered, thus enabling the judges to pass just and correct judgment.


"Judges and officers you shall appoint for you," according to our sages, also has another message.  It implies that before a person judges others, they must remember to judge themselves and live by the same standard as they would impose on others.  Then, and only then, can they "judge the people with righteous judgment."


This is also in accordance with the following directives of our Talmudic sages, "A person should correct their own faults before correcting others."  Only then will one be able to properly influence the behavior of others.


The Talmudic sage Rabbi Chanina ben Elazar had a tree whose branches were bending over into someone else's field.  Since his neighbor didn't complain, Rabbi Chanina didn't cut the branches. 


One day, a man came before Rabbi Chanina and complained that the branches of his neighbor's tree were entering his field.  He wanted Rabbi Chanina to order the neighbor to cut the branches.


"Come back tomorrow," Rabbi Chanina told him, "and I will judge your case."


"Why does Rabbi Chanina want me to return tomorrow?" the man wondered.


After the person left, Rabbi Chanina hired workers to cut down the branches of his own tree which were leaning over into the other field. 


The next day, the man came back to complain about his neighbor's branches.  Rabbi Chanina sent for the neighbor and ordered him to remove the branches.


"But, Rabbi, doesn't your tree also lean over into your neighbor's field?" the man protested.  Rabbi Chanina told him to see for himself that the branches were cut.  Thus, even though his own neighbor didn't mind, Rabbi Chanina knew that before correcting others one must first abide by these rules himself.