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The Greatest Distance


Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. — Deuteronomy 16:18

The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means “judges,” from Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 51:12–52:12.

What is the greatest measurable distance in the universe? Is it from the Earth to the sun? A great rabbi once offered this answer: “The longest distance in the world is between a person’s heart and their mind.” While they are only 12 inches apart physically, what’s in a person’s heart and in their head can be light years apart!

The rabbi was explaining why people fail to do what they know they should. There is a space between what we know we should do and what we want to do. Sometimes that distance is huge! Humans can travel from the earth to the moon, but we have yet to create a vehicle that quickly connects the mind to the heart.

This week’s reading is called Shoftim, meaning “judges,” as in “Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes . . .” The reading begins with a commandment to set up a justice system including judges and officials, which the Jewish sages interpret as “policemen” – officials who would enforce the decrees of the judges.

The sages wonder why the portion is only named for the judges and not the officials. Surely a judge is nothing without law enforcement officers! What good are decrees if nobody is there to make sure they are implemented?

The sages explain that while policemen are necessary today, in the future, only judges will be needed. There will be no need for policemen. In messianic times everyone will know God; therefore, everyone will want to live according to His will. Judges will help to provide guidance. However, once a verdict is read, people will naturally uphold the decision because it will come from God.

On a deeper level, this explanation also speaks to a change in each and every individual. Today, a great distance still exists between our judgment and our implementation of what we know is right. We still need our own personal judges and internal “police officer” to ensure that we stay on track. But it is possible to live in a way that only our internal judgment will be necessary. When we know God deeply and love Him, we will naturally do with our hands what we know to be right in our heads and feel is right in our hearts.

In Hebrew, someone who repents is called a chozer b’tshuvah, which means “returned in repentance.” However, literally, these words can also mean “repeated the answer.” The sages teach that when we do what we believe over and over again, it eventually becomes second nature. The more we traverse the distance between the head and the heart, the shorter the distance becomes, until one day, there is no distance at all.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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