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 better?

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 first priority.

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, and worthless.

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 deep.

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 which.

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 of ignorance!

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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