Guardian of the Gates – Shoftim
שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֶּן לְךָ בְּכָל שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹקֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ לִשְׁבָטֶיךָ וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת הָעָם מִשְׁפַּט צֶדֶק (דברים יא, כו).
There seems to be an inconsistency in the first passuk. If the intention (according to most of the Mefarshim) is that Am Yisrael appoint judges and policemen at the gates, then it should have used the plural תתנו לכם בכל שעריכם. Instead, the passuk uses the singular תתן לך בכל שעריך.
The Shlah Hakadosh, R’ Yishayahu Halevi Howoritz (שופטים, דרך חיים א') quotes from ספר היצירה that we each have 7 שערים – two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and one mouth and it is over these “gates” that a person should appoint judges and policemen, constantly judging himself.
In this shiur, I would like to concentrate on one of these שערים, the mouth, while bringing a number of principles from Sefer Meir Panim.
HKB”H created the human organism with redundancy. Most of our anatomy is paired, 2 hemispheres in the brain, ears, eyes, nostrils, arms, legs, lungs, kidneys, reproductive organs, etc. On a functional level this redundancy provides a mechanism of sustainability, if we lose one chas veshalom, we have a backup. On a deeper, spiritual level, this duality reflects the symbiotic nature of the attributes of HKB”H – Gvura and Chessed (see the shiur on Eikev).
The vast minority of our anatomy is singular and the most prominent body part of this type is the mouth. Although numerically there is only one mouth, functionally the mouth also embodies a duality - things go in (food) and things come out (speech), corresponding to the two pipes, the oesophagus and the trachea and on a deeper, spiritual level, corresponding to the attributes of Gvura and Chessed.
The mouth is one of the most powerful parts of our anatomy. Its correct usage (input) ensures that our body remains healthy (the saying “you are what you eat” is true in more ways than one - see the shiur on Shmini). It also separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom by virtue of its ability of speech. The mouth (lips and tongue), provides humans with the ability to speak words. Without it, all we would be able to utter are guttural vowels, like the rest of the animals.
Speech is part of the צלם א-לוקים and, in us humans, reflects the Divine power of creation or destruction. HKB”H Himself created the world using speech (kivyachol) בעשרה מאמרות נברא העולם (אבות, ה, א). Words are perhaps the most powerful ability we humans possess, using them, we also create or destroy. This is the creative power of tfila and also the destructive power of lashon harah.
The mouth has a third function, it is a central feature in facial expression. The mouth reflects the inner emotions of the soul, happiness, sadness, etc.
In this shiur I would like to concentrate on the first function of the mouth - the gateway for food. According to the Shlah HaKadosh, appointing “judges and policemen” over this function of our mouths is a central lesson of the first passuk in our parsha.
Since the Lechem Hapanim is considered מזונו של עולם (Tzror Hamor, Truma), there are many lessons we can learn from it in terms of “judging” and “policing” what goes into our mouths. In my shiur on Shmini above, I discuss at length the issue of Kashrut, here I will focus on other aspects of how we eat our food.
Humans differ from animals in their food consumption habits. Animals do not combine “psychology” with food. The only consideration when an animal eats is survival. Each animal is genetically “programmed” with instinct that determines what type of food it consumes – carnivore or herbivore. An animal pays little attention to appearance or taste, if the food fits the bill – to ensure survival – the animal will eat it. Cats eat rotting food from garbage cans, lions eat raw zebra, anteaters eat ants. Animals are not fussy in terms of how the food is served, to them food is “binary”, it is there or it is not. Animals do not “nosh”, they eat only when hungry. David Hamelech tells us (Tehilim 104) that before searching for food, animals ask HKB”H to provide them with sustenance.
When humans are reduced to the level of animals, where the only consideration is survival, “psychology” goes out the window. Humans will also eat anything in order to survive (re: Vayikra 26). Under normal circumstances however, humans apply psychology to food. It is important to us how the food looks, how it tastes, etc. This is part of Birkat Hamazon – בחן בחסד וברחמים. The word בחן refers to the fact that HKB”H adds to our enjoyment of eating by providing multisensory stimuli, varied colors, textures, aromas, etc. This is what Am Yisrael complained about the Mann in the Midbar, that although it had many flavors, it always looked the same – white coriander seeds.
Humans also associate emotions and memories with food. Eating certain foods provides comfort, evokes memories, etc. Unlike animals where eating is “brain stem”, primal, with humans it is more cerebral. The capability of “knowledge” enables us to elevate our food from something mundane to something more spiritual. However, “knowledge” is a double edged sword, just as it can be used to create, it can also be used to destroy.
HKB”H’s initial intention when creating a tree in Gan Eden was the Eitz HaChayim, that the fruit and the branches were equivalent, they tasted the same. The fruit of this tree was Lechem Abirim, the Mann Am Yisrael ate in the Midbar. HKB”H gave Bnei Yisrael Mann to teach them a fundamental lesson –
כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם כִּי עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי ה' יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם (דברים ח, ג).
However, this intended tree sinned and manifested itself, not as one integral unit, but as different parts, each tasting and looking different from one another. This was the eitz hada’at, the forerunner of all the different types of food in the world. As soon as Adam ate from this tree, he acquired knowledge - it was the first time man applied “psychology” to food. While this ability enables man to create, it also attaches an “unwanted passenger” – the yetzer harah - that has the ability to destroy.
According to Chazal, HKB”H created man with the attributes of all the animals. Man is a conglomeration of the entire animal kingdom. (Pirkei Avot 5, 20). Geneticists say that 99% of human and animal DNA is identical. We share 99% of our DNA with that of a gorilla. Only 1% of our DNA differs from that of the rest of the animal kingdom. Man is required to use this 1%, the צלם א-לוקים, to harness all the positive aspects of our animalistic nature in the service of HKB”H. There is much we can learn from the animals.
Before the sin of the eitz hada’at, Adam ate like the rest of the animals, according to instinct. Just as HKB”H genetically programmed lions to eat zebras, He programmed Adam to eat Lechem Abirim, Mann – the fruit of the Eitz HaChayim. Adam ate only when he was hungry and before eating he applied the principle of עַל כָּל מוֹצָא פִי ה' יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם by acknowledging HKB”H as the source of his sustenance and expressing gratitude.
However, by eating from the eitz hada’at, Adam introduced another element into food – “psychology”. On the one hand, this knowledge, psychology is the mechanism that enables man to do the tikkun for eitz hada’at and to restore our food to the spiritual level of Lechem Abirim, but on the other hand danger constantly lurks in the form of the yetzer harah, whose greatest tool is using food to make man sin.
The original, intended purpose of food, Lechem Abirim, Mann, the fruit of the Eitz HaChayim was twofold. Firstly to lay the foundation of our relationship to HKB”H. By acknowledging that HKB”H is the One and ONLY source of our food and that only by our constant tfilot to HKB”H (that come out of our mouths) will we merit food (that goes into our mouths). We thus establish a close Parent/child relationship with HKB”H. Secondly, to sustain our physical bodies so that we may serve HKB”H to the maximum of our ability.
The Lechem Hapanim teaches us where our food comes from. It is not from Unilever, Kraft, Osem, Tnuva, Strauss or Ben&Jerry’s. Our food comes from HKB”H via Gvurot Geshamim (see above shiur on Eikev). Our food is conceived on Shabbat, which provides the bracha for the entire week. This is why the Lechem Hapanim was switched every Shabbat.
Once we understand and acknowledge the true origin of our food, we are obligated to firstly ask HKB”H for the food, for permission before eating the food (birkot hanehenin) and secondly to thank HKB”H after eating the food (birkat hamazon/bracha acharona). We thus perform a tikkun for the eitz hada’at – Adam never first asked permission and he certainly never thanked Hashem for eating something he was forbidden to eat.
One of the miracles of the Lechem Hapanim was that as long as the bread was on the Shulchan (in HKB”H’s “domain”) the entire week, the laws of nature did not apply to it. It never went stale and it never went moldy. It remained as fresh and warm as if it had just been removed from the oven. However, like the Mann which had to be consumed on that day (except for the double portion on Friday), the previous week’s Lechem Hapanim, switched on Shabbat, had to be eaten by midnight on Motzei Shabbat. You were not allowed to have Lechem Hapanim “leftovers” the entire week, one day with toasted cheese, another used as bread crumbs for schnitzel. This is the concept of the Mann – no pantries and leftovers – each day a new tfila to HKB”H for our sustenance, thus preserving the constant Parent/child relationship.
Another miracle of the Lechem Hapanim in the time of Shimon Hatzadik, is that, when it was divided up between the two shifts of Kohanim (the incoming and outgoing) on Shabbat - approximately 250 Kohanim per shift (in the time of Bayit Sheini), making a total of 500 Kohanim – each Kohen only ended up with a kezayit. Despite this, that small kezayit filled him up as if he had eaten an entire meal and was perfectly absorbed, just like the Lechem Abirim, the Mann (the gematria of לחם הפנים is אבירים).
The Lechem Hapanim is the model for what kind of שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים we should appoint on our mouths, how we should eat our food.
The Gemara however, also describes the danger of allowing the yetzer harah to enter into the picture, determining what and how we eat. In Yoma (39a) the Gemara describes an episode where one of the Kohanim was greedy and in addition to eating his portion of Lechem Hapanim, took more than he should have and he was called בן חמצן for the rest of his days. His yetzer harah got the better of him and instead of eating like he was genetically “programmed” to eat, “psychology” entered into the equation and he psychologically felt deprived, like he needed more – even though physically that was not the case. When psychology enters into eating the yetzer harah runs rampant. In that case, instead of eating according to the model of the Eitz haChayim and the Lechem Hapanim, a person is eating to satisfy his/her תאווה. Eating of this type is representative of the antithesis to HKB”H’s model. The gematriya of בן חמצן is עמלק.
Part of the framework of the שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים we must apply to our mouths before eating, is to ask ourselves two questions.
In order to eat food for the purpose of remaining healthy, we need to invest time and effort in learning the basic principles of nutrition - which foods are beneficial and which are harmful, both in the mekorot (רמב"ם, הלכות דעות) and also according to modern medical science. Animals don’t eat unless they are hungry and neither should humans. Animals eat until they are satiated and then they stop, so should humans. There is a hormone called leptin that tells the brain to stop eating because you are physiologically satiated. Unfortunately many people “override” this natural defense mechanism of the body and continue to eat regardless, to satisfy some psychological need. Perhaps they were deprived as a child, so they overeat, out of insecurity that tomorrow there will be no food.
Most eating disorders are psychological and not physiological - anorexia, obesity, etc. - they need to be treated on a spiritual level. Only the small minority is endocrinological, physiological and requires medical treatment. Most eating disorders have their origin in the yetzer harah.
Almost the entire modern food industry is based on the yetzer harah. Satisfying the craving for sweetness, saltiness, energy drinks that artificially “supercharge” our metabolism like a drug; Preservatives that weaken our relationship with HKB”H by deluding us into thinking that we are in control of our food; Advertising that appeals to our emotions rather than our intellect; Flashy graphics on product packaging; False promises and deliberate misdirection, etc.
Unless we invest time and effort to learn the basics of nutrition, which is part of ונשמרתם מאד לנפשתיכם, there is no chance that we can emerge this deluge of modern commercialism and greed unscathed.
When we make a bracha before eating food, not only are we adding another building block in our relationship with HKB”H, but we are also applying a “litmus test” to the food we are eating. If Adam Harishon would have a made a bracha before eating from the eitz hada’at, he would have first had to ask HKB”H, “What bracha do I make on this?” and would certainly not have sinned. If the bracha for the food we are eating is obvious – this is clearly adama, hamotzi, mezonot, shehakol, it means we can identify the origin of the food, we have some link to the Creator who created that food. When the bracha to make on a food is not clear, this is a sure-fire signal that the food we are about to put in our mouths is so denatured and far removed from the original food, that it is unlikely to do our bodies any good. When you are so unclear what bracha to make on a food product that you have to read the ingredients list to try figure it out, that is an additional defense mechanism to prevent you eating something that is not beneficial for your health. When you see the long list of chemicals and preservatives that outnumber the “actual, real food” components, it is (or should be) a deterrent against eating something that is most likely harmful to your health (if not in the short term, almost definitely in the long term).
When you say birkat hamazon after a meal, if you can say ואכלת ושבעת וברכת without popping out of your clothes, falling out of your seat, or falling asleep, it means you have not overeaten. אכילה גסה is eating according to the yetzer harah and is one of the most dangerous things to your health. Overeating/gluttony is being a בן חמצן, the middah of Amalek! We will read next week that such a thing is even punishable by death! (בן סורר ומורה).
As we approach Rosh Hashana, our parsha and the Shlah Hakadosh tell us – שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֶּן לְךָ בְּכָל שְׁעָרֶיךָ. Take extra special care how we use our seven שערים, use our ears to hear the right things, our eyes to see the right things, our nostrils to smell the right things and our mouth to say the right things and let the right things pass its gates. And to constantly police and judge ourselves to make sure this is the case.