In this cycle, through the Torah, we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.
Devarim 16:18-19 (Robert Alter)
Judges and overseers you shall set for yourself within all your gates that the LORD your God is about to give you according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. You shall not skew judgement. You shall recognize no face and no bribe shall you take, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the innocent. Justice, justice shall you pursue …
A corrupt or unfit judge is compared to idolatry.
Reish Lakish says: With regard to anyone who appoints over the community a judge who is not fit, it is as though he plants a tree used as part of idolatrous rites [ashera] among the Jewish people, as it is stated: “You shall make judges and officers for yourself” (Deuteronomy 16:18), and juxtaposed to it, it is written: “You shall not plant yourself an ashera of any kind of tree” (Deuteronomy 16:21). By implication, appointing unfit judges is akin to planting a tree for idolatry.
Related to the Torah verses, the Tractate Sanhedrin discusses legal procedure. Part of their discussion is the complementary role of compromise to justice, when there is not a clear principle to apply to the litigants.
As it is taught in a baraita: When the verse states: “Justice, justice, shall you follow,” one mention of “justice” is stated with regard to judgment and one is stated with regard to compromise. How so? Where there are two boats traveling on the river and they encounter each other, if both of them attempt to pass, both of them sink, as the river is not wide enough for both to pass. If they pass one after the other, both of them pass. And similarly, where there are two camels who were ascending the ascent of Beit Ḥoron, where there is a narrow steep path, and they encounter each other, if both of them attempt to ascend, both of them fall. If they ascend one after the other, both of them ascend.
How does one decide which of them should go first? If there is one boat that is laden and one boat that is not laden, the needs of the one that is not laden should be overridden due to the needs of the one that is laden. If there is one boat that is close to its destination and one boat that is not close to its destination, the needs of the one that is close should be overridden due to the needs of the one that is not close. If both of them were close to their destinations, or both of them were far from their destinations, impose a compromise between them to decide which goes first, and the owners of the boats pay a fee to one other, i.e., the owners of the first boat compensate the owner of the boat that waits, for any loss incurred.How does one decide which of them should go first? If there is one boat that is laden and one boat that is not laden, the needs of the one that is not laden should be overridden due to the needs of the one that is laden. If there is one boat that is close to its destination and one boat that is not close to its destination, the needs of the one that is close should be overridden due to the needs of the one that is not close. If both of them were close to their destinations, or both of them were far from their destinations, impose a compromise between them to decide which goes first, and the owners of the boats pay a fee to one other, i.e., the owners of the first boat compensate the owner of the boat that waits, for any loss incurred.
Elimelech, 18th century, Ukraine (Sefaria)
Judges and Officers: The explanation is that the way of the righteous is that they have (internally) a rebuker that rebukes them on every action they take … the impulse to do good rules them. This is not what happens to the evil ones, to whom all is upside down, since all their deeds are good in their eyes … the impulse to do evil rules them. Middling people are ruled by both, as the tanna says “like us, middling.” That is, a person needs to strengthen oneself with these two ways, to always dispute internally regarding one’s deeds … We find that a person needs to strengthen these two levels (internally) together so they will be perfect within oneself, as the rabbis of blessed memory say “with all your hearts — with your two inclinations,” and this is “like us, middling” and “middlings are ruled by both.”
And this is “judges and officers you shall appoint”: a hint to the two judges spoken before which are the impulse to good and the impulse to evil … “At/In all your gates” is used because to everything connected to a mitzvah and to holiness there is a gate of its own, and every thing that a person does in this world, be in Torah, prayer or some holy act, the person opens the gate of that mitzvah, and this is “in all your gates.”
For most of us, we need to harness our Yetzer Hara to our Yetzer Ha’Tov, to combine our animal and spiritual drives.
Menachem Mendel of Kotz, 19th century, Poland
The meaning is that you should appoint judges and officers precisely “for yourself,” that is, for your own character in every aspect of yourself, so that you can assess yourself. For according to your assessment of yourself should you judge and criticize yourself. Hence, [the text says] “in all your gates.”
The Kotzker uses wordplay with the Hebrew for “gates.” Assess and assessment has the same root.
Devarim 18: 13
You must be wholehearted [תָּמִ֣ים] with your God.
The verse is in the context of condemning and prohibiting using oracles, soothsayers, and sorcerers
Rabba bar bar Ḥana said that Rabbi Shmuel bar Marta said that Rav said, citing Rabbi Yosei of Hutzal: From where is it derived that one may not consult astrologers? As it is stated: “You shall be wholehearted with the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 18:13). The Torah demands absolute faith in God and acceptance of His justice, without attempting to predict the future.
It was stated that Rabbi Ḥanina says: A constellation makes one wise and a constellation makes one wealthy, and there is a constellation for the Jewish people that influences them. Rabbi Yoḥanan said: There is no constellation for the Jewish people that influences them. The Jewish people are not subject to the influence of astrology. And Rabbi Yoḥanan follows his own reasoning, as Rabbi Yoḥanan said: From where is it derived that there is no constellation for the Jewish people? As it is stated: “Thus said the Lord: Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them” (Jeremiah 10:2). The nations will be dismayed by them, but not the Jewish people.
And Rav also holds that there is no constellation for the Jewish people, as Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: From where is it derived that there is no constellation for the Jewish people? As it is stated with regard to Abraham: “And He brought him outside, and said: Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to count them; and He said unto him: So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5). The Sages derived from this that Abraham said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, “Behold, You have given me no offspring, and one born in my house is to be my heir” (Genesis 15:3). The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: No. “And, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying: This man shall not be your heir; rather, one that will come forth from your own innards shall be your heir” (Genesis 15:4).
Abraham said before Him: Master of the Universe, I looked at my astrological map, and according to the configuration of my constellations I am not fit to have a son. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: Emerge from your astrology, as the verse states: “And He brought him outside,” as there is no constellation for Israel. What is your thinking?
Is it because Jupiter is situated in the west that you cannot have children? I will restore it and establish it in the east. And that is the meaning of that which is written with regard to Abraham: “Who has raised up one from the east, he will call justice [tzedek] to his steps [leraglo]. He gives nations before him, and makes him rule over kings; his sword makes them as the dust, his bow as the driven stubble” (Isaiah 41:2). God established Jupiter [tzedek] in the east on behalf of [leraglo] Abraham.
… [several anecedotes are shared about how a mitzvah saved a person from predicted death] …
And from that which transpired to Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak as well it can be derived that there is no constellation for the Jewish people, As Chaldean astrologers told Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak’s mother: Your son will be a thief. She did not allow him to uncover his head. She said to her son: Cover your head so that the fear of Heaven will be upon you, and pray for Divine mercy. He did not know why she said this to him. One day he was sitting and studying beneath a palm tree that did not belong to him, and the cloak fell off of his head. He lifted his eyes and saw the palm tree. He was overcome by impulse and he climbed up and detached a bunch of dates with his teeth. Apparently, he had an inborn inclination to steal, but was able to overcome that inclination with proper education and prayer.
Nachman of Breslov, 18th century, Ukraine
And this is the meaning of, “Go before Me and be whole.” It corresponds to “You shall be whole with God your LORD” — You will not have to investigate the stars and constellations [Pesachim 113b). For you will be above them.
Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, Ba’al Shem Tov, 18th century, Ukraine
The external fear that comes over people [does so] in order to awaken them to the fear of God. A parable: What is this like? Like a warrior sent by the king to summon a certain person. [The one who has been summoned] is very fretful and afraid, solely because the agent may go immediately to the king to do the royal will.
Similarly, the external love that comes over people [does so] in order to awaken them to the love of the Eternal. A parable: What is this like? Sometimes a person is sent by the king to another on a mission of love, but someone who is ignorant enjoys and plays with [the king’s] agent, while the wise person says: “What is playing with the agent to me? I will go to the root, the love of the king.”
Hence the text: “Perfect [Tamim] shall you be with the Eternal your God” — the Tav [of Tamim] is large [in some Torah scripts]. So despite that the letter tav is far from the letter alef, this alludes to the need to raise everything that is far, whether love or fear or joy or physical pleasure, to the Ruler [aluf] of the universe.