KosherTorah School for Biblical, Judaic & Spiritual Studies
Guardians, not Jailers
Commentary to Torah Portion Shoftim
by Ariel Bar Tzadok
Copyright © 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.
What is beautiful? What is sexy? Are the two the
same? What if they are? And, what if they are not? Should one try to balance
both together? Should one chose one over the other? Which is, after all, the
better? Then again, by what criteria do we define what is, and what is not
As you can see, there are many questions. These
questions cause much consternation in the hearts and minds of many people. I
don't think these questions need to be problematic. All we need to do is to
first define for ourselves definite terms (definitions), and then, based upon
what we have established, created for ourselves priorities and parameters.
First, let us start with a basic question. Which
is more important, one's outward appearance, or one's inward character? Yes,
both are important, but which one is more important? Which one has to come
first? Answer these questions, and you will have established for yourself your
Many people will claim that character counts over appearance, at least this is what they say. But, when it comes to practice, it is often the opposite that is the case. People today, for the most part, tend to be very shallow and superficial. Appearances means almost everything to a growing number of people.
How often we forget the old saying that “beauty
is only skin deep.” How many times have any of us been involved with a very
attractive individual, only to find out that the person's character was much
more ugly that their appearance? Discovery of such a person's true ugliness
usually leads to the dissolution of the relationship. And yet, even with all
these experiences, shallowness still reigns supreme, and physical appearance way
too often takes on a role of importance far more than it rightly deserves.
Maybe it takes one who is blind to see clearly
beyond that which the physical eye chooses not to see. The infatuation with
superficial beauty at the expense of inner quality and value is not limited to
our attractions towards the opposite sex. Such shortsightedness also blinds us
in our attractions to religion.
The Torah (Deut 16:18), instructed the ancient
Israelites to place judges and police in all places in which they would dwell
(literally, within their gates). Ancient Israel was designed to be a society
built upon law and order. With the passing of the ancient State, the Torah Sages
reapplied this edict in a metaphorical fashion. They encouraged the people to
place judges and policemen “within the gates” of each individual. In other
words, each person should be careful as to what they allow to enter within one's
individual psyche. One has the obligation to safeguard oneself from influences
that can have a negative impact upon one's behavior.
To place a judge inside one's psyche means that
one must arbitrate, with deliberating intensity, that which comes before one,
and to judge matters only in accordance to wisdom, proper understanding, and
validated knowledge. In other words, anything superficial becomes meaningless,
If we are to apply this moral message to our
original questions, and ask again what is beautiful? We should be able to pause,
consider the true definition and meaning of beauty, and then give an answer that
is sincere, honest, and above all, correct. And, how many among us today really
do just this? Most people today are just shallow. Shallowness in one area of
life usually indicates shallowness in many areas of life.
Shallowness opens up one's psyche to all so many
types of emotional damage, and mental confusion. Some say that ignorance is
bliss. For those foolish enough to believe this, go ask the ignorant just how
blissful are they? The answer is not a happy one. Ignorance is by no means
blissful. On the contrary, ignorance is Hell, and Hell is never bliss. One
cannot be faithfully religious, and at the same time be ignorant of real life.
One of the most fundamental lessons in the Torah
path is the importance of a full, well-rounded education. The Torah path has
always included more than just the books of Judaism. The Sages, throughout the
centuries, were all students of science, philosophy, math, and just about
anything else that could teach them about the universe around them. Indeed, in
order to be a Torah-level Sage one must indeed be well versed in all these
areas, alongside classical knowledge of the Jewish religion. This type of
education is the opposite of shallowness. Indeed, it defines what it means to be
In-depth education and learning is not the
memorization of facts, or pledging blind allegiance to what one has been taught.
Real learning is not learning what to think. Real learning is learning how to
think. This is what the Sages of old endeavored to teach their students. The
attitude of the Sage was not, “follow me.” Rather, it was, “walk with me.”
The first lesson taught by the ancient Sages was
to be “matunim ba'din.” This means to be deliberating, cautious, and patient
with regards to examining information. Do not be in a rush to accept shallow
conclusions. Rather, dig deep, and discover the truth.
When the Sages interpreted the placing of
guardians at the gate to apply to each and every individual mind, their intent
was not to moralize, but rather, to educate. Before, one can work to keep out
the bad, and let in only the good, one must first know for certain, which is
In shallow eyes (and shallow thoughts), much of
what is good is deemed to be bad, and in reverse, much that is bad is deemed to
be good. This perversion of Torah permeates entire segments of the religious
community at large today. All these perversions of true Torah come about because
the so-called uber-religious fail to uphold the wise words of the ancient Sages.
Instead of being educated, they stay shallow. Instead of being deliberating and
thinking for oneself, independent thought is sacrificed on the altar of
conforming to the mob.
These holier-than-thou misguided ones have no
guardians at their gates, yet, all the while they think that they have the best
guardians of them all. Unfortunately, their guardians are no such thing. Instead
of having guardians at the gates of their minds, the modern uber-religious have
instead jailers! Jailers, who keep their minds and souls locked up in the prison
What the eye alone sees can be a deception.
Seeing is not believing, at least not until one can fully analyze, and define
what exactly it is that one sees. This analysis requires an open and intelligent
mind that knows how to think.
Let us return to the beginning, and again ask the
question, what is beautiful, and what is sexy? Superficially, we say surface
counts. Intelligently, we disagree. Intelligently, we answer that the definition
of beauty, depends upon what it is that one defines as beauty. One recognizes
that true beauty is often concealed under a shallow superficial covering, that
must be peeled back in order for the inner beauty to shine, and delight both the
heart and mind.
Only the right guardian at the gate can keep out the demons of superficial conclusions. The Sages of old were wise. They taught us well. They have proven themselves to be worthy role-models of our emulation.
In the first of the Ten Commandments, God declared us all to be free! We no longer have any outside jailers with the power to imprison our minds. So, if we have any jailers today, that imprison our minds, and prevent us from learning, growing, and maturing, as did the Sages of old, then such jailers are self imposed, by us! If we put a jailer in the place where a rightful guardian should be, then we can also remove that jailer, and cast him, and his prison away.
The human mind is free. Education is what is beautiful. Education is what is sexy. And, education comes in many different gift wrapped packages. But, do we not always remove the packaging first, to get to that which is inside? Being that this is the case, why should we be deceived into accepting a poor prize just because it is nicely packaged, when we can instead receive a rich reward, even though it might not be as nicely packaged?
The uber-religious yell and scream for one to place upon oneself guardians to protect the individual from exposure to anything the uber-religious find objectionable. This is the path of perversion. The path of Torah also calls for guardians, but these guardians are to be placed to protect us from ignorance, superstitions, fears and prejudice. Our guardians guard us from the uber-religious, and their crazy agendas.
Our guardians are our strong, and educated minds.
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The Written Works of Ariel Bar Tzadok
Copyright (C) 1997 - 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.