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On the Shabbat of Shoftim, in the reading of Shoftim, the Ramban, Nachmanides, reveals a very important secret about this verse, which says, “You have to chase after justice.” He gives first, as he often does, a commentary and explanation based on the literal understanding of those words. The Ramban quotes from a book of kabbalistic secrets called the Bahir, which Rav Nehunia ben HaKana, the author of the Ana BeKo’ach, wrote. He says there is a secret which is explained, based on this verse.
In the Bahir, from section 74 and section 75, it explains that when it says tzedek, which is literally translated as “justice,” it really means “the rule of justice of this world.” It’s not justice in the physical world; it’s referring to the judgment, the din, that an individual brings upon himself when he does negative actions, and in so doing awakens general negativity that the world goes through. Therefore, what the Torah is referring to here is the judgment that exists over the individual, or over the world.
Later, it says in the end of the verse that if you run after this tzedek, this judgment of the world, then you will merit life. Rav Nehunia ben HaKana says in the Bahir, with regards to the end of the verse, that if you want to merit life, make sure you are running after the judgment of this world. And we have to understand what this means, because it’s a very important secret. To the degree that we judge ourselves is to the degree that we are alive and will merit life. If we do not judge enough, then the judgmentwill come upon us and we will have to cleanse it forcefully.
So, first we understand this secret that the Ramban is quoting from the Bahir, from the book of Rav Nehunia ben HaKana, which says if you push yourself to judge yourself - and through that you in some way diminish the judgment that exists over this world and over you - then you will draw life to yourself. But if not, it says, the judgment will be forcedupon you, and the judgment will come and manifest.
This secret can be understood by a section in the Midrash that says if there is judgment in this physical world, then there is no judgment that comes from the Upper World. If we can remember that, hopefully, we will not stop doing teshuvah this month. Most of us know that when we come to the month of Elul, we have to do teshuvah. Why? Because we want to cleanse ourselves from our negativity so that our vessel is perfected as we come to Rosh Hashanah. But there’s a much more important reason why we not only have to be constantly doing teshuvah, but also, have to be pushing ourselves into deeper levels of it.
We have spoken before about the concept that there is a limited amount of a reservoir of negativity and darkness that can come to an individual. What creates that reservoir? Our negative actions. When we do a negative action we create that source of negativity that has to become manifest. But we have the choice: either, as Rav Nehunia ben HaKana says in the Bahir, we are forced to manifest that judgment, or we choose to manifest it ourselves and then it does not have any more energy.
Let’s assume an individual, just to use a number, has ten aspects of judgment that he has created. Every time he looks into himself when he goes through the process of teshuvah and goes deeper and finds more, remembers more negativity and things he has to transform, he takes from that reservoir of judgment and uses it up. This is one of the reasons the process of teshuvah and the process of judging oneself is not just an important process to become a better person or to perfect our vessel; what it actually does is use up the reservoir of judgment that is meant to come down on the individual. And that’s the secret the Ramban and Rav Nehunia ben HaKana want to teach us.
If we run after the judgment, which means we are pushing ourselves in deeper and deeper ways to bring judgment upon ourselves, judging ourselves and finding greater degrees or levels of things that we have done wrong, then if there is judgment awakened down here by us, there is no more energy of judgment in the Upper Worlds. However, to the degree that we are not pushing ourselves to find more and more, then, for example, if we have only found one aspect, one-tenth of our negativity, we leave nine-tenths of our energy of judgment in the Upper Worlds. And then, as it says in the Bahir, that’s going to manifest in our life.
So, we have the choice to judge ourselves harshly in this month, which, if we understand, is an unbelievable gift. Why? Because if we continue to judge ourselves again and again, and we find more and more negativity, then we are taking away from that cloud of judgment in the Upper Worlds; there is no more judgment in the Upper Worlds that can manifest. And that’s our choice.
We now understand why it says “You run after the judgment of yourself…” Even if we think we cannot find aspects of negativity, we have to force ourselves to run after ways to find negativity within us this month, because every aspect of negativity we find takes away from that reservoir of judgment that is going to manifest in our life. To the degree that we judge ourselves in this month – and if we find one aspect of negativity after the other – is to the degree we will draw life, because no force of death, no force of judgment, is left in the Upper Worlds. It’s a tremendous secret and one of the gifts of this Shabbat that I hope we don’t just understand, but also truly come to feel.