RAMSWe stand only three weeks away from the Jewish New Year, thoughts of Teshuva beginning to confront us: What should I concentrate on this year? How am I to face God on Rosh Hashanah? Has this been a positive year?

Here is a little help from the  Maggid of Koshnitz. He adapts in the classic style of Chasidic torah, the opening lines of the parsha, reinterpreting them as a message not to society but to the individual; not concerning the outer world, but rather addressed to our inner world.

Our Torah portion begins as follows: “Appoint Judges and officials for your tribes… and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly, … you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and falsify the word of the just. Justice, justice, shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).

Here the Torah cautions us: Set for yourself Judges and Officials … each person too must set for themselves Judges to judge oneself. This means that one must set ones sight to examine ones path in life, and to pave the path ahead. … The Torah continues: “Do not pervert Justice.” This means to distort the truth of the reality, claiming that an improper, evil act was in fact a good one.

Do not take bribes” – The way of the Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination) is to tempt human beings and to entrap them in the net of sin and wrongdoing. Afterwards a person feels bad, and as a response, will perform a mitzva of some sort or learns Torah and he comforts himself that now his prior behaviour will have been excused, until again, he decides to act wrongly. Thus the Torah warns us about this process, which is just like bribery that, “blinds the eyes of the wise.” The reward for a mitzva stands alone; and the penalty for sin stands alone. Wrongdoing is atoned for only through genuine Teshuva, a process of transformation whereby one fails to return to one’s sin.

And then there is another hurdle. Yes, a person regrets their bad actions, their lifestyle, and begins to return to God, to pray regularly, or to study Torah and he performs good deeds with sincerity. Suddenly, the Yetzer Hara begins to fill him with pride, he experiences a feeling of personal satisfaction and smugness, God forbid, and hence he ruins all his achievement. Chazal say; “Whoever is filled with pride, is as if they worshipped idols,” (Sota 4b) hence the Torah cautions us: “Do not plant an Ashera, any tree [of worship], alongside the Altar of your God, and do not establish for yourself a Matzeva – a monument.” The Torah specifies “Lecha” – for yourself that you yourself become the Matzeva – through your prideful thoughts, you are, as if, an Ashera and a Matzeva “that God hates.”

The words of the Maggid of Kushnitz are full of strong warnings and even a bit frightening, but both, the eloquence of the text, and the potency of the message here, have much to challenge us with and give us ideas to think about in preparation of the High Holy Days.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: alexisrael.org)

Torah Reading for Shabbat Shoftim

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

Reading: DTN 16:18-17:17 (P 1294 / H 820)

Haftarah Isaiah 51:1-52:12 (P 1316/ H 835)

In our Torah reading for this week, Moses instructs the people of Israel to appoint judges and law enforcement officers in every city. “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” he commands them, and you must administer it without corruption or favoritism. Crimes must be meticulously investigated and evidence thoroughly examined—a minimum of two credible witnesses is required for conviction and punishment.

Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or:  http://goo.gl/LsHQrY.