In this week’s parsha, the opening pasuk says, “Shoftim v’shotrim titain lecha…”, “And you shall make for yourself judges and officers…”. Rabbeinu Bachye explains that the Shofet and the Shoteir explained in the pasuk are incumbent on each other. Just as it wouldn’t be sufficient to have a judge without whom to enforce the rules, so too it wouldn’t work to just have a police force without any lawmakers.
The Sh’la Hakadosh says that the pasuk ends with a lashon yachid, in singular tense. He explains, that this mitzvah to institute officers and judges isn’t just a mitzvah which was given to Yisrael as a klal, but also a lesson to each individual as a prat. Meaning, the pasuk isn’t just referring to an obligation given specifically for the community, rather it’s also teaching a real necessity for each individual.
The Shla explains that the pasuk is coming to teach us a very important correlation. Just as the community needs to appoint judges and enforcers for themselves in order to function properly, so too each individual needs to become a judge and an enforcer on himself in order to function properly. Being a judge refers to using the sechel; the ability to think about an action and determine whether or not it’s in accordance with the will of HaShem. However, like Rabbeinu Bachye explained, it’s not enough to just have judges. A person can’t just be the sechel. He needs to also be a shoteir, to enforce the right path on himself.
The Shulchan Aruch in siman 231 defines what it means to be an eved HaShem. He explains the obligation as being literally, an avdus to HaShem. Just as a servant who stands before a king is in a constant state of introspection, so too every individual in this world must be in a constant state of thought, to determine if he’s acting the way HaShem wants. We all stand before the king constantly, as the pack says “Shvisi HaShem l’negdi tamid”, and therefore our thoughts should be like a slave before a king whose constant thought process is focused on his actions. That’s what it means to be an eved; to think about your actions and enforce a change if it’s necessary.
This is the mitzvah of “Shoftim v’shotrim”, says the Sh’la Hakadosh. There are many times in life when we realize that we aren’t acting in an acceptable manner. However, the realization by itself is never enough. With just the realization, we become like the servant who realizes he isn’t performing the will of the king, yet refuses to change. That’s not called a real eved. To become a real eved HaShem, one needs to become a shoteir as well, and enforce the necessary change for the better.
There’s a pasuk we now say every day in “L’dovid” which I feel really encapsulates the message of Elul. The pasuk says “Lecha omar libi bakshu ponai es panecha HaShem avakeish”, “to you my heart has said seek My presence, Your presence, HaShem I seek.” On the surface, this pasuk seems cryptic. Who is Dovid Hamelech talking to when saying “to you my heart has said”? It seems as if he’s talking to HaShem, but then the continuation of the pasuk doesn’t seem to make any sense at all!?
Possibly anticipating this issue, Rashi explains the word “Lecha” as “On Your behalf”. In other words, Dovid Hamelech is telling us that on the behalf of HaShem, the heart says, “seek My presence”. We can glean from here a groundbreaking yesod in Avodas HaShem and the month of Elul. Deep down inside, each one of us has a heart which is on a mission from HaShem to enlighten us to change. To give us that desire, to seek out truth and meaning in life. It isn’t something which is external to us which needs to be acquired. It’s an inherent part of us deep down inside.
Being a shofeit on oneself does mean using the sechel. It does mean thinking about whether or not our actions align with the Ratzon HaShem. That seems like a daunting task. To assess all of our actions every day? How could a person have time for such a thing? We see from the pasuk in “L’Dovid” that sometimes using the sechel doesn’t mean actively assessing each and every action. Sometimes it just means listening to the heart, to the message our neshama is telling us. It’s a reality, deep down inside. Using the sechel sometimes means peeling away the layers of filth which separate us from the true connection with the “heart’s” message. For the heart is always deep down aligned with Ratzon HaShem. Deep down we always know and feel what’s right. Being a shofet on ourselves just means knowing how to listen.
This is the message of Elul. In Elul we try to enlighten ourselves to Teshuva and to return to HaShem. It’s a time of deep introspection. The pasuk is telling us where our introspection should lead. It should lead to us listening to ourselves. The heart says seek out HaShem. It tells us to do Ratzon HaShem. It’s just up to us to take the time to really listen