Three Areas of Judgment
If a matter of judgment is hidden from you, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, between plague and plague, matters of dispute in your cities – you shall rise up and ascend to the place that G-d your
G-d, shall choose.
By this statement, the Torah empowered the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court in Jerusalem, to adjudicate complex matters of law. The Torah divides the laws into three categories: (a) laws of purity and impurity as it pertains to blood; (b) civil law; and (c) laws concerning skin lesions.
When the Torah discusses judgment we are to understand it on two levels: First and foremost, the Torah is referring to actual judges who were empowered by the Torah to resolve and adjudicate complex matters of Jewish law.
However, in addition to the literal meaning of judges and matters of Jewish law, judgment and judges apply to each and every individual.
In the opening verse of this week’s parsha, the Torah commands us to “appoint judges and officers in all of your gates.” The term “gates” is Biblical jargon for our cities. However, it is also an allusion to the gateways of our own bodies; the organs through which we absorb food, fragrance, sounds and sights into our bodies and consciousness. We are enjoined to place “judges” at these gates to determine if those influences are kosher and proper.
Based on this, we have to understand how to apply the laws of blood, civil law and skin lesions to our lives.
More specifically, since we are standing on the threshold of the era of Moshiach and the Final Redemption, we must apply the lessons from these three areas of Jewish law specifically to our preparation for the Final Redemption
Between Blood and Blood
Blood is often used as a metaphor for passion. When we are extremely upset it is said that our blood is boiling. “Bad blood” is often used to describe negative feelings towards another.
The Torah forbids consumption of animal blood. One of the rational explanations for this prohibition is that the animal’s nature is most present in and expressed through its blood. The goal of food consumption is not only nutrition; it is also to elevate the food we eat. We can elevate most of the parts of an animal but we don’t have the spiritual power to elevate the blood. When a person ingests the blood of an animal it actually lowers him into the level of animalistic passion.
To be clear, Judaism is not opposed to emotional expression. Indeed, the first human being was named Adam, which contains the word dam, which means blood. However, when G-d named the first man He prefaced the word dam with the letter aleph, which stands for the Master of the World.
When we preface our emotions with an awareness of the Master of the World, the emotion can be characterized as being pure.
The first act of self-Judgment thus is to examine our emotions and ask whether they are directed towards the Aleph and thus pure. The question we have to ask our internal judge is: are we Adam or just dam?
The second area of self-analysis is din-judgment as it pertains to the way we judge others in contrast with the way we judge ourselves.
An exaggerated self-love can cause us to deny, minimize or justify our faults. Even when our faults are so egregious that they cannot be ignored, we are still biased to accept ourselves as good people despite our shortcomings. Most frequently, however, we don’t apply the same blind eye as we reckon the faults of others.
When a prospective convert came to Hillel and asked to be taught the Torah while standing on one foot, Hillel famously replied, “What is hateful to you don’t do others.”
Chassidic thought interprets these words as follows:
We find it quite irritating and painful when another tells us about our deficiencies; indeed, it is hateful to us to be reminded of our failings. That is exactly how we should feel when we view the other; it should be painful to focus on the other’s faults. Rather, we should love them despite their deficiencies, or, better still, try to help the person change just as we would do for our own failings.
Here is the question we must decide as honest judges:
Do we accord the same courtesy to the other as we offer to ourselves in our exercise of self-judgment? Do we deemphasize or overlook the other’s faults to the same extent that we do to our own?
Judging Between Pure and Impure Plagues
The reference here to a plague specifically means the skin lesions that would render the person ritually impure and would require quarantine and isolation. The Talmud explains that this plague was a punishment for people who spoke ill of others and thereby caused them to be disenfranchised and isolated from the rest of society. One of the most human of needs is for companionship. Hence, one of the most destructive things we can do to another is to isolate them. Separation from society is indeed a limited form of death; one of our Talmudic Sages is quoted as saying, “either friendship or death.”
We are blessed to live in a world with modern technology which helps unite people, even when they are far apart geographically. Media has created a means by which we no longer need to be disconnected and lonely.
Perhaps the idea of companionship is hinted in the word nega, which can be translated as “touching.” There are two ways in which we can touch others. One is a healthy and life affirming way and the other is an impure nega, which involves touching the other with negativity (pun intended).
But as important friendship and companionship are we must discern between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.
Our Sages in Ethics of the Fathers exhort us: “Keep the distance from a bad neighbor.” There are times when we have to distance ourselves from negative influences and the people who carry them.
Hence the third area of judgment is about discerning between healthy relationships and the unhealthy ones.
Three Judgments to Get Out of Galus
Galus conditions have allowed people to exhibit impure “blood” characteristics by diverting our passion from G-dly matters to physical pleasures. Galus has also caused us to see the superficial aspects of our fellows that causes us to judge them unfavorably. And Galus conditions have allowed us to be touched by negative influences through the invasion of all sorts of media into our homes and consciousness.
While modern technology is one of the greatest gifts and blessings because of its ability to connect, unify and educate us it is also the source of division, miseducation and exposure to negative influences.
In our preparation for the Final Redemption we have to apply judgment in these three areas in particular.
There is a Midrashic expression that is used to describe the victory over negative and impure phenomena: Didan Natzach, which translates as “Our [efforts] will be victorious.” It may be suggested that the three letters of the word didan form an acronym for the three subjects discussed here: dam, din, nega.
The message here is that when we make the right decisions with regard to these three areas we will have paved the way for the Final Redemption; the victory over Galus!