Protect the ‘Gates’ of Our Souls
Yael Eckstein | August 9, 2021
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
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means “judges,” from Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9.
Living in the age of constant information and media, one of the challenges that I find myself dealing with is how to filter all that I am exposed to. And it’s not just the quantity of information. Discerning what is valuable and what is harmful is a daily task.
Exposure to negative news can lead to despair, or worse, it leads us to think ill of people who are mentioned in stories that we read and hear about. And once we start thinking negative thoughts, it is so easy to fall into the trap of sharing these negative perspectives with others.
The importance of filtering and judging what we hear, see, and say is hinted at in the Bible, with the help of a beautiful teaching from Jewish tradition.
Protect the ‘Gates’ of Our Soul
In Deuteronomy, Moses told Israel that when they enter the land, they must set up a system of courts and law enforcement. He told them “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.”
The pivotal word here is “town.” The Hebrew word used for “town” is sha’ar, which literally means “gate.” Based on this, the Jewish sages taught that this verse is hinting at our personal behavior, even as it instructs us to set up courts and policing to enforce the law.
The sages explain that “every gate the LORD your God is giving you,” refers to our eyes, ears, and mouths, which are the “gates” of the mind and the soul. Through the “gates” of the eyes and ears we receive information about the world and about other people. Then our mouth is the “gate” that our own words emerge from, affecting the world around us.
We must set up “judges and officials” for ourselves. We must do whatever we can to protect the “gates” of our soul and carefully judge what enters through our eyes and ears.
If something negative tries to get through, we must cut it off before it makes its way into our minds and our hearts. Most importantly, we must also police what comes out of our mouths so that we never cause harm with our words.
Particularly in the times we’re living in right now — where the news cycle is a 24/7 spin — let us take whatever precautions we can to protect the “gates” of our soul.
Let’s look for positive, uplifting news today. Let’s share stories that help others feel happier and more optimistic.