Just as a gate allows us to control who and what passes through it, so too do our eyes, ears and mouths. Our eyes control what they see and focus on. Our ears control what they choose to hear. And our mouths control our spoken words. We must therefore place “judges and officers” at those gates to safeguard them and ensure that they forever remain pure, and productive.Rabbi Allouche
Which is the most important part of our body?
Some scientists will point to the brain, as it controls all of the things that make us human: our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions and reactions.
Others will say that the heart is the most important part of our body, for, without it, one dies.
Some storytellers like to say that it is the shoulders that are the most important part, because “they can hold the head of a friend or a loved one when they cry.”
In this week’s portion, the Torah offers a different perspective. The brain, the heart, and the shoulders may be important, but it is the “gates of our bodies” that count most. This is learned from the opening verse of our portion in which G-d commands us to “appoint judges and officers in all your gates.”
But what are those gates? According to our Sages, these gates are our eyes, our ears, and our mouths.
Indeed, just as a gate allows us to control who and what passes through it, so too do our eyes, ears, and mouths. Our eyes control what they see and focus on. Our ears control what they choose to hear. And our mouths control our spoken words. We must, therefore, place “judges and officers” at those gates to safeguard them and ensure that they forever remain pure, and productive.
When I was just 16 years old, my dear mentor, world-renowned scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who passed away just two weeks ago, pulled me aside, and he advised me, so poignantly: “Know that the greatest obstacle to me, Adin, is me. The greatest obstacle to you, Pinchas, is you. But once you learn to master yourself, you will not have any problem in mastering the entire world.”
Similarly, the legendary Chassidic Master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, was once approached by a student who asked him for advice on how to conquer his temptations. The Rabbi instructed him to visit a certain person who “holds the keys to his question.”
Upon arrival, at a late evening hour, the student knocked on the door, time and again, but there was no answer… After many hours of wait – in the harsh conditions of the cold night – the person finally opened the door and let the student in.
When the student explained that the great Rabbi had sent him to learn from him how to control his temptations, the man responded: “Did you notice how I kept you waiting all night? This is my house, so I decide when you come in. And this is how you can fight your temptations. You are the master of your own being, and you too can decide who and what comes in, and who and what comes out…”
This lesson holds particularly true in our generation that is constantly inundated by Tweeter tirades, Facebook rants and raves, real and fake news, uncensored song-lyrics, obscene gestures, emotional outbursts, and dramatic video-games. Have we lost this vital art of self-control? Have we no restraint? Have we no shame?
In the wise words of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the Kotzer Rebbe: “All that is thought should not be said. All that is said should not be written. All that is written should not be published. All that is published should not be read.”
It is high time the gates of our “cities” are restored so that our eyes can focus on the good versus the bad, our ears can discern Divine harmony from earthly noise, and amidst the boisterous noises of our society, our mouths can utter and sing the music of our souls.