Who’s To Judge? : TorahCycle Shoftim

Shoftim 2014

Sorry to interrupt the sweet end of summer with tougher stuff, but the world has seemed an angrier place the last while. Hating and killing. Killing and hating. There’s lots of judging going on. Most of it landing in the I’m better than you are place, with its nasty and dangerous corollary So your life’s not worth as much as mine.

How does that kind of judgment get justified?

The God of Torah has basically one instruction: Do what I told you, or else…. Where the “or else” ranges from death to long years of painful exile. Which pretty much dooms humanity to the bad stuff, because if any one of us can’t get it right, how’re the whole of us going to? In theory we‘ll all be better and kinder in the time of a future messiah (think Hair’s Age of Aquarius). But in a Catch-22, no goodness = no messiah. So in the short run (and I’m talking millennia here) it’s pretty much crime and punishment, judgment and hatred, killing and being killed.

This week’s reading appoints judges and has various prohibitions. My favorite is the ban against “wanton destruction of something of value,” which can be anything from a fruit tree to a person. So how to justify the slaughter of tribes, then and now, when people have just been described as “trees of the field.”

We’re all guilty of judgment, whether it’s our own bad hair day to the wholesale condemnation of groups with different religions, skin color, politics, and lifestyles. We mostly do it with rhetoric rather than live ammunition. But by practicing judgment so regularly we become inured when it happens all around us. We forget that compassion breeds more compassion, while anger and judgment calcify and harden our hearts.

Yes there are unequivocally objectionable actions that require adjudication and punishment. In Torah the catchall justification for slaughter is the label “idolator.” It’s like a get out of jail free card. But in a more relativistic world, with lots of legitimate variations on truth, whether it’s in religion or choice of whom to love, what’s the responsibility of the community, the state, and of each of us, to make sure bad things don’t happen to good people, just because someone with a badge or a better missile system judges them as different?

When one of your kids justifies walloping a sib with He hit me first, do you respond with, Okay then, go ahead and pound the crap out of him? Or do you say Use your words? What works for children should translate at least a little to ostensibly civilized nation-states and to small-town police forces.

If I judge myself as having a bad hair day, it costs only some lowered self-esteem or the extra time for a wash and dry. Judging any group as the contemporary equivalent of idolators can have disastrous consequences, ones that raise the stakes for all of us. Who would you trust to make that judgment, and how would you feel if it was made about you?

If we’re going to have a planet to bequeath Generations X, Y, and Z, we’re going to have to start using more words and less ammunition.

Holy Wow: TorahCycle Yitro


We all have forms of practice. Spiritually obvious ones like daily meditation or prayers, and more grounded forms like running or gardening. Leaving Egypt is like getting your K-6 certificate for doing a good job with your practice, so far. It’s a big deal.

So what do our guides do?  Give us a recess or two to figure out the lay of the land and the new us we want to be? Nope. We’ve barely got our feet on the trail and we’re catapulted to the holy of holies. A chance to seriously up our game.

Sinai imagery is of thundering sound from a cloud and lightning shrouded mountaintop. Hearing color. Seeing sound. Every sense askew from both message and delivery.

How about you? Do you want your next batch of lessons to arrive by knocking your doors off? Or do you prefer a process that guides you carefully, even gently, to greater insights and blessings? Do you want those lessons to deepen who you already are, or to challenge you to become different?

Torah talks about our physical senses being shattered open by revelation. The sacred geometry of mind and matter is complex and not under our direct control. But I get regular affirmations that what we think affects what happens in our lives, both for good and ill. We can’t make things happen, but when they come we can decide whether to welcome or run from them.

At its core, the Sinai experience is about deep kavannah, commitment and intention. Intention in a multi-dimensional, seven chakras at a time way: Yes. I’m all here and all in.

To reassure those who aren’t always so ready: in the story, the people close their eyes, cover their ears, and beg Moses to serve as their interlocutor. But for an instant, we each had a chance to say a profound Yes.

Buddhism teaches the importance of preparing for death. For the “go towards the light” moment between nows when you can shape your karma and consciousness. That moment’s also about intentionality and choice.

Mantra: Each choice matters, and impacts what happens next.

The big choice is choosing intention. This reading asks, What’s it gonna take to get your attention? A Holy Wow, a sweet arm around your shoulder, or something else? The universe has many ways, from kind to sly, even scary, of knocking on our doors. Some ways we neither invite nor welcome. But it also responds well to commitments that are deep and true. That align your holiest self with your deepest intention.

Get clear on what you want so you can start asking for it.

I welcome holy moments, but haven’t always accepted the responsibilities that accompany their invitations. As I age, I increasingly value the importance of listening to these messages, whether they come with trumpets or as whispers, as subtle hints or with clear instructions about what to do and how to live.

My advice: The next time you’re scared and want to cover your ears and eyes, instead embrace the idea that what’s happening is for your highest good. That it’s an opportunity to jump tracks, up your game, catapult yourself in the right direction. Then open your hands in gratitude and say Yes.