שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך אשר ה' אלקיך נותן לך לשבטיך ושפטו את העם משפט צדק
“Judges and guards you shall provide for you in all of your gates… and they shall judge the people with justice.”
Why does the verse tell the Jewish people to “provide” judges, instead of “appointing” or “designating” judges and guards?
We are now at the beginning of Elul, which marks the end of this year. Rosh Hashanah is around the corner, followed by Yom Kippur, when every single person is judged by Hashem for his deeds. This is the time to stop and think, to look honestly at ourselves and see where we need to become better.
Our lives can be compared to a king who gave his son a beautiful piece of property to cultivate. “Plant anything you want, but make sure that it is planted well,” he instructed him. “Care for the soil, the seeds and tender saplings. I will give you as many servants as you need, just make sure that the plot of land produces a variety of delicious fruits, and that the trees are firmly planted to withstand harsh weather.” The son worked hard to turn the empty field into a beautiful orchard and garden. Together with the servants his father provided, he succeeded in cultivating various fruit trees and flower bushes, and awaited the day when the fruits and bushes will begin to bloom.
Some time later, the prince began to associate with a group of irresponsible youths. One day they had a drunken party at the garden, and one of the boys suggested that they have a contest and see whoever can uproot the most bushes and trees. The youths gleefully agreed and began tearing the garden apart, with the young prince actively joining them. In his intoxicated state, he tried to outdo his friends by uprooting the most trees and bushes!
The following day, when he awoke from his drunken stupor, the prince was beside himself with anguish. What had he done? He ruined all his hard work with his own hands! He ran crying to his father, describing the entire situation to him. “I worked so hard, I wanted to see my trees producing fruits, and now everything is in total ruins!”
The king replied, “From now on, be careful with whom you associate, and never get drunk again. Get the garden back into shape with more hard work, and you’ll be proud of your efforts.”
Hashem, the King of Kings, assigned each of us a “plot of land” to cultivate. We are here in this world to plant good deeds and perform mitzvos. With every mitzvah we perform, we are planting a tree, we are creating a malach – an angel. The more angels we create, the more mitzvos come our way, as the Mishna says, “One mitzvah leads to another.” We are all busy at our gardens, investing tremendous efforts to plant beautiful fruit trees that will benefit us and our offspring for eternity.
Unfortunately, Satan doesn’t rest. He tries to get us intoxicated by pulling us towards various earthly pleasures and improper associates. If we listen to him, we may end up uprooting the trees we planted with so much hard work, G-d forbid.
Those who remain strong in the face of the yetzer hara’s attempts to lure them away from their gardens, are fortunate to see their hard work turn into beautiful fruit trees and magnificent flower bushes. They are a living fulfillment of the first chapter in Tehillim: “Fortunate is the person who avoids joining the wicked… He will be like a tree planted at the riverbank, whose fruits are produced on time… Hashem knows the ways of the tzaddikim and the ways of the wicked will be lost.” We pray to Hashem that the “ways of the wicked shall be lost” – their attempts to ruin our garden of mitzvosshould be unsuccessful, and their ways should no longer exist at all.
Now, in Elul, is the time to turn to Hashem our King, who gave us our plot to cultivate. Now is the time to cry to Him, “I want to do Your will, but the yetzer hara caused me to uproot all the trees I planted with my own hands! Please help me so that it shouldn’t happen again!”
Of course, praying is not enough. We must work harder on our gardens and on avoiding the yetzer hara’s attractions. Our sages compare wisdom and actions to a tree and its roots. A person who has a lot of knowledge but does not put it into practice, is like a tree with many branches that has very few roots. The slightest wind will topple the tree and tear it out from the ground. On the other hand, a person whose actions surpass his wisdom is like a tree with deep roots. The strongest winds will not uproot this tree.
Therefore, we must be among those whose actions surpass their knowledge. Knowing what is right is not enough; we must do it! We must spend time perfecting our middos and actions, learning more Torah, and performing more mitzvos. Only then will our trees be strong enough to withstand harsh weather. Even the strongest winds will be unable to uproot our trees, and we will merit seeing the fruits of our labor in this world and in the eternal world.
The first letters of the first four words of the verse “Judges and guards you shall provide” spell out the word(שתול) “shasul – planted.” The same four letters can be turned around to spell(תולש) “tolash – tear down/uproot.” The verse is telling us that we shall remember to cultivate our gardens, and at the same time we shall be on the alert not to ruin our hard work with our own hands by uprooting the trees we planted. You shall plant – and not uproot! If we will succeed in doing so, we will merit that “they shall judge the people” with a mishpat tzedek – a favorable judgment. In a few short weeks we will stand before the Heavenly Court to be judged. If we will heed the beginning of the verse and safeguard our gardens, we will be judged favorably on Rosh Hashanah.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life; may all Jews in need of a yeshua be helped. Those we need a refuah shall have a speedy recovery and those who need a nechama shall be consoled, and may this be the year when we will finally greet Moshiach, Amen.