The word Shoftim means “judges.” And that is precisely what this week’s portion is all about. Both the Torah and the Zohar discuss the subject of judges at length, in what seems to be very different ways. In the Biblical story, we find Moses instructing the Israelites on how to nominate and identify judges amongst themselves. In the Zohar, there is a lengthy discussion of the spiritual process after death and the gates of heaven. When the soul leaves the body, it goes through different gates, and before each one there stands a judge. The Zohar reveals that these spiritual gates correspond to our own physical gates – our eyes, our nose, our mouth… all the senses we use to judge others.
The problem with judging is that things are rarely as they seem. We see someone hurting others, but we don’t see how badly they were once hurt. We see those who act like fools, and don’t stop to think how the very definition of a fool is one who knows no better. We see those who behave like clowns, but we are not aware that their motivation is simply to make someone smile.
Vision does not come from our eyes. The eye itself is like a blank canvas receiving images in black and white and upside down. Our mind then turns it around and creates the visual. What does that mean? Our mind perceives what we see, and therefore we see mostly with prejudice. Everything, from what we experienced in our childhoods to what happened two minutes ago, informs how we see and how we judge someone or something in the present moment.
So, how is it possible for us to see a true and clear picture? How can we start to see the essence of people and intentions for what they really are? The truth is, we can’t. But what we can do is begin to understand that we can cool the fire of our judgment with mercy. Not only is it not our place to judge others, but one of the most merciful things we can do sometimes is to open our hearts and give others the benefit of the doubt.
This is what many of the ancient kabbalists made into a way of life. There are countless stories of sages who simply could not see negativity in others. If someone was eating with no manners, for instance, swallowing without chewing, a kabbalist would be of the mindset, “He must be eating in such a hurry because he has to get somewhere quickly to help someone.” No matter what these kabbalists would see with their eyes, they would justify it with their minds and in their consciousness as an act done for the purpose of serving the Light. By doing so, they kept their own hearts open, their thoughts positive, and their souls in alignment with the way of Light. For the Creator too makes allowances for our actions.
There is an energy that exists in the universe right now that can support us in this work of becoming more merciful and less judgmental. Let us use our minds to make right side up what we see that might look upside down. Let us use our eyes to see with mercy, not judgment. Instead of creating a movie in our minds that paints people and situations in black or white, let us apply consciousness to paint our vision with glorious color and beautiful souls beaming only positive intentions.