Parashat Shoftim

A Calming Judgment

How can someone be fond of judgement and laws?  Judgment is scary.  Judgment is bad.  Judgment is guilt.  Judgment is a prosecutor and a defense attorney and judges and hammers and shameful punishments.  Judgment is something very stressful and frightening!  Can there really be something in the world called ‘a calming judgment’??

judgement 2

Harav Israel Asulin

Tuesday, 3rd of Elul, 5775


If the words ‘judgment’ or ‘sentence’ awaken in somebody soft feelings of fondness and longing, or seem to someone as something good, positive, beloved, pleasant and nice- let him stand up!


How can someone be fond of judgement and laws?

Judgment is scary.  Judgment is bad.  Judgment is guilt.  Judgment is a prosecutor and a defense attorney and judges and hammers and shameful punishments.

Judgment is something very stressful and frightening!

Can there really be something in the world called ‘a calming judgment’??

“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities… and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment… so that you will live…” (Devarim[1], Chapter 16, Verses 18-20)  This week’s Torah portion opens with the command to appoint in every city a judge, whose role was to uphold the religious laws and judge between people.  If the people would fulfill the command of righteous judgment, the Torah promises, the Jewish people would merit life and blessing.

Why does righteous judgment guarantee good life?

The Midrash explains:  “Where there is judgment- there is no judgment, and where there is no judgment- there is judgment.  What does this mean?  Rebbe Eliezer said: If the judgment is carried out below- then the judgment is not carried out above, and if it is not carried out below- it is carried out above.” (Midrash Raba, Devarim, 5th Parsha, 5th Paragraph)

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov takes this teaching, which deals with public judgments, and compares it to the personal judgment which a person needs to carry out with himself: “Judgment means that a person judges himself regarding everything he does, before he is judged from above.  By way of his judging himself he is saved from judgment from on high, because when the judgment is carried out below, there is no judgment from above…” (Likutei Moharan[2], Torah 154) Rebbe Nachman reveals to us that this is advice how to be saved from heavenly judgments- if you will judge yourself, here below, then you will be saved from judgments from above.

Great, the second part sounds promising, to be saved from heavenly judgments, we all agree… but regarding the first part- to judge myself?!  Judge myself?  Sentence myself? Criticize myself?

Okay, if you say this needs to be done- and furthermore it’s the month of Elul now and the Day of Judgment is approaching, and I’m searching for refuge and sweetening of the judgments- then maybe I’ll do it.  However, you should know that I don’t want to!  You should know that the child inside of me is going crazy on the floor and kicking the walls saying ‘I don’t want to”.  I don’t want to!  I don’t want to!! Don’t want!!  I don’t want to judge myself and don’t judge me!  Don’t tell me where I made a mistake and don’t tell me what I need to correct!  Enough, I didn’t do anything!  Leave me alone!!

We have inside of us hysterical opposition to anything that smells like criticism or judgment.  We need to understand, why?  What happens to us when we face criticism, does this have to happen, and is there such a thing as a sweet judgment?

Why are we afraid of judgment and why do we refuse to look at the bad and where we made mistakes?

Because we are certain that that is who we are, the bad, and that that is us ourselves, the mistake.  The bad things we did appear to us as our identity.  We are so sure that we are not good at the source, to the point that if we’ll receive criticism and if we admit that we made a mistake or sinned, it will be like we are signing the sentence that erases our existence.  It’s true, we are defected.  We don’t even exist.  We don’t have the right to live.  We don’t have the right to open our eyes in the morning.  We don’t have the right to receive anything.  We are something dirty and spoiled.  To the garbage and that’s all…

This is our feeling when we face criticism, because of so much exile.

The beginning of the redemption is to learn anew, from the Tsaddikim, what is judgment and how do we carry out judgments.

To make a judgment here in this world is first of all, to internalize that I am essentially good.  I am a pure soul.  I am sweet and precious and separate from the bad.  The bad is not me; it’s just like a piece of clothing which has been put on me.  If I’ve sinned, it’s not me who is lacking, rather my actions.  If I make a mistake, it does not erase my existence!  I remain eternally good!!

After I have made this distinction between myself (the good) and the (smelly) clothing that is covering me, I can progress to the next stage of the judgment- to enter a room, close the door, and sit with myself to take an accounting of my soul.  To look at reality in the eyes without blinking, and check carefully where the mistake is and what can be fixed.  Let’s see, what’s this dirty shirt?  That’s not fitting for me!  I’m so beautiful and pure!  This dirt is not fitting for me!  Let’s see how to make teshuva[3], how can I throw out this shirt and exchange it for another, clean one.

I know and feel in the clearest possible way- it’s not me!  It’s not me they are throwing into the garbage!  It’s not me they are disqualifying in the judgment!  I am revealed through the judgment, my true self who is under the garbage…

Then I’ll also merit to be saved from the judgment from above.

What is a judgment from above?

When a judgment is made in heaven, the goal is the same goal- to reveal to you that you are good and to push away the bad that has stuck to you.  If you hold on to the bad and are certain that it’s you, then it hurts.  It’s like a surgery.  They are trying to take away from you a disgusting shirt which is clinging to you, and you feel like they’re cutting your limbs and sawing into you!

When you judge yourself for yourself, when you differentiate between yourself and the bad and let go of the grip, it already doesn’t hurt.  It’s not an amputation.  It’s simple and calming like changing a dirty shirt for a clean one.

Understand?  Judgment, and it’s not a scary judge with hammers and punishments and a garbage that I’m thrown into like a rotten fruit… judgment is an amazing opportunity for cleansing.  To be freed of all the discomforts, to be separated from all the choking shirts, and move forward to my true place and to grow.

So, who’s afraid of judgment?  Let him stand up!

[1] Deuteronomy

[2] The main collection of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

[3] Repentance

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