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Shoftim(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

Watch the Gates


When a guard is protecting an object from being damaged, lost or stolen, it's a sure sign that it's valuable. There is nothing we have that is more valuable than our hearts and minds; shouldn't we guard them too?

This week's portion instructs us to appoint judges and officers at the gates of our cities to protect them and maintain justice. Our sages teach that we can also learn from this to carefully guard what we allow to pass through the 'gates' of our bodies - our eyes, ears, etc. - and start to take control of what we allow to influence our precious hearts and minds.

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In our story some people grapple with what to let past their gates.

"PRIVATE SCREENING"

      "Hey Benny, that big revolving door was tricky," laughed Marc. "I almost walked out of the building before I even walked in!"

      He and his friend were on their way to visit Randy, a kid they had met that summer at camp, who lived in a fancy condominium. Suddenly, they bumped straight into a pair of legs that seemed as thick as tree-trunks.

      "And where exactly do you boys think you're going?" They looked up at the tall man in his crisp red uniform. Were they being arrested or something? Before they could get anything out of their frightened mouths, they heard the familiar sound of their friend's voice.

      "It's okay Jim," Randy said, "they're here to visit me."

      Immediately the tall man's stern look melted into a smile. "Oh, then that's different. Have a nice day," he said with a tip of his cap.

      "Whoa. What was that all about?" Marc asked as they went upin the polished glass elevator.

      "Don't sweat it. He's just the doorman. He guards the building to make sure nobody trespasses who doesn't belong. Anyway, I'm really glad you guys made it. Come on in," Randy said, leading them into the spacious penthouse suite.

      After some cold drinks and catching up, the boys noticed the huge TV hanging like a movie screen on the living room wall. Randy gave them a wink, grabbed the remote control off the shelf and switched it on. "Hey, good timing. Crime-Talk is on," he said with a smile.

      Benny and Marc squirmed. Neither boy's parents let them watch the show that featured interviews at the scenes of violent crimes.

      "Let's tell him to turn it off," whispered Marc.

      But Benny, who was staring so intently into the big screen that he hardly heard him, just brushed him off with a flick of his hand. A commercial came on right away and Randy went into the kitchen to get some snacks. Marc nudged his friend again. "I mean it. Either this show goes, or we do."

      "Oh, come on" said Benny. "What's the big deal? I know plenty of kids who watch it, and anyway it'll be over in just half an hour."

      "I don't care," Marc said. "I am not into it, and more important, I don't want it to get into me."

      "What do you mean?"

      "Everything we see and hear has an effect on us. Our eyes, ears - all our senses are the gates of our bodies and mind, and I'm not willing to let this violent junk into mine."

      "Come off it, you're overreacting. It's just a TV show! You can do whatever you want, but I'm sticking around."

      Just then Randy came back in. Marc made a quick excuse about something unexpected coming up and started heading out. He hoped his exit wouldn't make a big scene but he had nothing to worry about - Benny and Randy had their eyes glued to the screen and just gave him a halfhearted wave as he left.

      "Short visit?" the doorman remarked as Marc left the building. "Have a nice day, kid."

      Marc went home wondering if he had done the right thing.

      The next morning Marc sat at the playground waiting for Benny to show up for their daily, late-summer game of basketball. He looked at his watch. Benny was never late for their morning game. Twenty minutes passed and just as Marc was ready to give up and go home, his friend showed up. Benny looked really tired and not like his usual himself. He could barely dribble the ball.

      "Hey, what's going on?" Marc asked.

      At first Benny was quiet, then he shook his head and said, "Man, were you ever right."

      "Right about what?"

      "That Crime-Talk show was bad news. I saw some pretty sick stuff that kept me up all night, and I still can't shake some of those pictures out of my head."

      "Please don't describe them to me."

      "I wish I was smart enough to put up my guard to stop that junk from trespassing into my head."

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Benny feel at first about watching the violent TV show?
A. He felt it would be okay and wouldn't do anything bad to him.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt scared by what he saw and wished he hadn't watched it.

Ages 6-9

Q. What lesson did the boys discover from what happened in the story?
A. They found out that whatever we allow ourselves to see, hear or otherwise let into our bodies and minds is going to have an effect on us and we should value ourselves enough to set up guards, i.e. our good judgment, to make sure whatever we don't want in - stays out.

Q. Does the fact that most people we know are doing something make it okay?
A. We should learn to trust ourselves. Even if it seems everybody is doing something, if something about it doesn't seem right we shouldn't be afraid to follow our hearts and go against the tide. Our bodies, minds, and souls are the most precious things we possess and we should treat them like the highly guarded treasures they are.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. Is there something valuable to be gained by opening ourselves up to experiencing anything and everything?
A. There is much more to be lost. Our bodies, mind, hearts, and most importantly souls are tremendously precious gifts from God. When we use them right - letting in positive influences and guarding out negative ones, we can soar to the heights of spirituality and happiness. Some experiences just aren't worth the cost of experiencing them.

Q. How can we judge which experiences are worthwhile and which aren't?
A. The main tool is common sense. If we sense something is weird or damaging, it most likely is. Besides this we can consult with others whose values and lifestyles we respect. The Torah and Talmud cover the root principles of virtually every experience known to humankind, and give deep insights on which ones will bring us closer to where we want to go and which will hold us back.


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Published: September 3, 2005

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