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  • Jason HRM

Shoftim: The 7 Gates

Updated: Apr 10, 2022

(Bethsaida, Galillee - The old ruins where in the entrance, just on the left, is the place where the judges would sit. Photo by HRM)

For this blog post I would just like to point out one ‘nugget’ from this Torah Portion ‘Shoftim’ (Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9). Hopefully I can follow this up with more, if not, you’ll just need to come to our meeting this weekend to hear the guys sharing some more of the good things from ‘Shoftim’.

It really is a portion full of fantastic lessons, many which directly relate to the word and teachings of our Messiah.

The 7 Gates

To begin, let’s start with the first verse of Shoftim.

For those that are unaware, Shoftim, which is obviously the name of our Torah Portion, is the Hebrew word which means ‘to judge’, or ‘to pass judgment’. It is the word in verse 18 translated as ‘judges’.

Deuteronomy 16:18 (The Scriptures)

18 “Appoint judges and officers within all your gates, which יהוה your Elohim is giving you, according to your tribes. And they shall judge the people with righteous right-ruling.

This verse is dealing with the time when Israel would no longer be living in exile having settled the land of Israel, and having done so, living in cities, would be required to appoint judges and officers within all their gates.

The mention of the ‘gate’ here should be no shock to people. Gates in the ancient world were typically where figures of authority would sit, affording all those that passed through the gate the opportunity to pay their respects to those ruling that particular city. Not surprisingly as well, the gate, or the threshold, is the place where covenants where entered into much like the Passover, which was a process of covenant, occurring in the gate, or entrances, to people’s homes. The gate is also where the judges would sit in the ancient world and where the cities court would be held.

What follows then in Shoftim are commandments related to the rendering of judgment. For example;

Deuteronomy 16:19 (The Scriptures)

19 “Do not distort right-ruling. Do not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.

Time allowing, we could really expand these words and learn a few frightening lessons about how far our societies have come when it comes to judgment.

The ‘nugget’ I would like to share with you however lies in a change of perspective to these verses. You see, we are looking at these verses on a collective level which refers, as I have just explained, to a community of people living within cities and town etc.

There is however a way to understand this verse on a singular and individual level. To see this individual perspective we have to quickly look at the Hebrew to Deuteronomy 16:18.

Where the verse says ‘appoint judges and officers within all your gates’, the word for ‘your’, is actually rendered in the singular. Rather than ‘your gates’, plural, it can be understand as ‘your gates’, singular, implying your own personal and individual gates. It’s a little awkward, but the word ‘your’ is really ‘you’, as in you, singularly and personally, you.

But what gates do you personally own?

In the work Siftei Kohen (which yes, is a book written by a Rabbi), it explains;

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.

Further, ‘the gates’ in Jewish thinking is understood at times as an idiom for your eyes, ears, nose etc.

Understanding this, the command to set a judge and sheriff over ‘your’ (individual) gates, takes on a whole new dimension.

The Siftei Kohen continues;

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 . . .

So the Torah here is commanding each person within Israel to judge, and essentially to filter, what we allow our eyes to see and our ears to hear etc.

We are responsible then for our own individual choices; for what music we like, for what television we view, and for the things that we allow into our bodies, our hearts and our minds.

In a Jewish tale there is a young man who asks his Rabbi a question related to this topic saying;

"… I fail to understand…those precepts which govern matters of the heart; for example, when the Torah forbids us to even entertain a thought that is destructive and wrong. What is one to do when such thoughts enter his mind of their own accord? Can a person control his thoughts?"

In the story the student’s Rabbi does not answer, instead, he encourages the young man to travel far to visit another Rabbi, of whom he says will answer his question. The student does so, and mind you the journey is long and the story is set in Europe during the winter. So the man travails and the travel is hard, and in the evening after a long journey he arrives to the town where the second Rabbi resides. Though it is late, the young student sees that the Rabbi’s light is on, so he ventures to knock on the door and in doing so, the young man can see through the window that the Rabbi is sitting near the door reading, wide awake.

One would think that the Rabbi would answer the door and allow the young and weary traveler into his home, hospitality after all, is vital in Scripture and in Jewish custom. The Rabbi does not however and allows the student to suffer in the cold on his doorstep for quite some time. Having suffered awhile, the Rabbi eventually stands and welcomes his guest. In the story the young man takes days to recover from his difficult journey in the winter. During these days, having been treated so well, the student forgets his delayed entrance into the home and days later, having recovered, the student ventures to ask his question to the Rabbi; the same question he asked his Rabbi from his home town. Having asked the question, the Rabbi responds, and draws his memory to the original night, where he had the young man suffer on his doorstep whilst he waited to let him inside. The Rabbi says;

"Tell me, my friend, is a man any less a master of his own self than he is of his home? "You see, I gave you my answer on the very night you arrived. In my home, I am the boss. Whomever I wish to admit -- I allow in; whomever I do not wish to admit -- I do not."

So it is with Deuteronomy 16:18.

Of course, our Messiah is our judge; and our God, our absolute authority. The Torah however teaches man to discern what is righteous from what is wicked, the Torah is our guide on how to judge and how to choose what is life, from that which is death.

Judgment within society, of other people, is one thing. Judging other people depends on authority and where you stand within your community. Judges of other people are appointed, but judgment of your own conduct, of what we allow to enter our hearts and minds, through our own gates, is a responsibility that is ours personally, and individually.

So appoint for you, personally you, judges over your gates; discern what is right in your life and what is not by the standard of righteousness, the Torah. Filter the television you enjoy, the music you listen to, the thoughts you harbor and the expressions of your heart. Sin is at the gates as Scripture says (Gen 4:7), so appoint your judge, and ‘follow righteousness, righteousness alone, so that you live’ (Deut 16:18).

Failing to do so, allowing sin through the gate and into your heart is the path to sin, or indeed, is already a sin itself.

Matthew 5: 28

28 “But I say to you that everyone looking at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

So as the Proverb says ‘Watch over your heart with all diligence, For out of it are the sources of life (Proverbs 4:23), ‘for out of the overflow of the heart [the] mouth speaks’ (Luke 6:45).

And so it is written;

Deuteronomy 16:18 (The Scriptures)

18 “Appoint judges and officers within all your gates, which יהוה your Elohim is giving you, according to your tribes. And they shall judge the people with righteous right-ruling.

Be Blessed

Jason HRM

(Jewish tale sourced from 'Once Upon A Chassid (Kehot, 1994)'


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