When Kaiser Wilhelm sought to invade Belgium, he was reminded of the signed treaty agreements to which his action would be in blatant contradiction. Dourly brushing the matter aside the Kaiser declared: “We shall take Belgium! As for the inconsistencies, let not your heart be troubled; the philosophers can be well trusted to supply the necessary explanations.”
A contemporary thinker once opined, “Philosophy is simply the formation of bad reasons for what we believe on instinct.” No wonder that Judaism has a healthy suspicion of man’s capacity to rationalize.
One does not have to be a genius to realize that for what there is a desire, the mind will produce ample logical arguments to justify its pursuit.
In fact, the human being has a built in “philosopher” in his mind, which can justify and explain any act, to himself and the world. It does not take much for reason to serve as a handmaiden of man’s will; providing plausible and creative explanations for any objective upon which his heart is set.
An act for which he might scornfully criticize another is often quite all-right for himself. People who insist they are honest and fair, will sometimes tear the other guy’s reputation to shreds without compunction. They will foment animosity among friends; air groundless rumors and idle speculation that ruin innocent people.
There is even a breed of people who wrap themselves in the mantle of piety and religion while they indulge in the aforementioned disparaging activity. These are the guys who link their self-serving destructive agenda with some holy cause – kind of like the Jihadists.
Hence, even the most sacred sanctums of Jewish life are not spared of this ailment. Due to the prevailing competitive mindset of the secular world, there are some who sadly carry this profane ethic and way of thinking into the workings of religious institutions and ideologies.
This is to say that they pit Synagogue against Synagogue, ideology against ideology and Jew against Jew, just so that their adopted ideology or institution may gain a competitive advantage. In other words they take the most sacred aspects of life and religion and immerse it in filthy politics.
Believe it or not, some of these very people (when not preoccupied destroying others with their evil tongue) are in the habit of preaching about “Lashon Hara.”
In my own town their lives a Jew who is in the habit of maligning fellow Jewish Torah institutions due to political, or “Market-share advantage.” His misguided efforts can, at least in part, be credited for a community in divide.
Ironically this same individual is wont to preach about Shmiras Halashon (guarding ones tongue) and Ahavas Yisroel (Love of fellow Jews). Talk about being blinded by self-interests.
In his anthology, Hayom Yom, the Lubavitcher Rebbe relates the following episode in the name of his father in law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson:
“My grandfather said to my father: ‘The Yetzer Hara (evil impulse) is called “Animal soul,” not because it is necessarily a brute animal. At times it may be a fox – the most cunning of beasts – who’s machinations require great wisdom to perceive. At other times, it may clothe itself in the garb of an earnest, straightforward, humble Tzaddik – possessing fine traits of character.
The animal soul manifests itself in each person according to his individual character. One person may suddenly experience a powerful urge to study Chassidus (Chassidic philosophy) or to meditate deeply on some Divine concept. In truth, however, this is nothing more than the Yetzer Hara's counsel and its machinations to prevent him from engaging in what is really required of him at that time, i.e. prayer or the like. . .
My father concluded: ‘Until then, I had not known that there can be a ‘pious’ animal soul, let alone a ‘Chassidic’ animal soul.’
Our Parsha – Shoftim – begins with the commandment to appoint judges and law officers throughout the land: Judges and Officers shall you appoint for yourself in all your gates [cities].” (Deuteronomy 16:18).The use of the words for “You” and “Yourself,” which in the Hebrew language are in the singular, indicate that this is not only a communal command but also one that is directed towards the individual.
Indeed the Zohar (classic Kabbalistic text) states that the concept of “judges and officers” applies to each individual with regards to his own persona. In order to triumph over one’s evil inclination and tendencies, one must develop a judicial system within one’s self. One must exercise enormous acumen in evaluating one’s own choices and decisions and their true motivation.
In this regard the prohibitions in our Parsha against perverting justice and taking bribe apply to each one of us as much as to any judge. Everyone – even an accomplished Torah scholar – no matter how much greatness and stature he has achieved, must still scrutinize his every action just as if he were a layman.
He must take care not to let pleasure, profit, honor, or any of the countless other self-interests, bribe him into thinking that an unworthy act is permitted, worthwhile, or perhaps even a Mitzvah.
We must search our souls for the true motivation of our desires and actions even when they seem overtly positive – holy and pure, how much the more so when the act in question is of an adversarial, disciplinary or counteractive nature. The motive and purity of such actions must be examined twice and thrice. Is it an act of Pinchas, or perhaps that of Korach? While the line may seem fine they are worlds apart; polar opposites.
We must indeed appoint Judges and Officers at all our personal “gates,” i.e. points of entry and exit. We must examine discerningly everything that comes in and goes out – what our eyes observe, our ears absorb, and what our mouth ingests and exhales. Then, and only then, can we be somewhat sure that the motivation and drive behind what we believe to be holy and pure, is truly for the sake of Heaven.
May we merit the time when evil will be eradicated from the world and truth will shine forth. A time when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d like the water that covers the bed of ocean, with the coming of the righteous Moshiach speedily in our time.