One day this past week, out of the blue, my five-year-old son Sruli looked at me and said, “Your nose is a triangle.” After a brief pause, he continued, “Why are there two holes?”
Anyway, it got me thinking about the opening verse from this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim (Deut.16:18)): “Appoint judges and policemen at the gates of your cities.”
The contextual meaning of the verse is exactly at it sounds. Rabbi Shabtai Cohen (1621-1662), on the other hand, offers an alternative perspective. Although Rabbi Cohen is generally associated with his legal writings, he also authored a Kabbalistic commentary on the Five Books.
The “city” the verse speaks of can also refer to one’s body. The “gates” are the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. In other words, guard what you let in to your body.
That reminds me of a story.
There was once a well-meaning individual who was bothered by distracting thoughts during prayer. So he asked his rabbi what to do.
His rabbi instructed him to journey to the town of Zhitomir to seek counsel with one of the great sages, Reb Zev. Now back in those days, a trip to a nearby town required traveling by horse and buggy, and the Ukrainian winters were not forgiving. He arrived after nightfall, found the home of Reb Zev, and knocked on the door.
No one answered.
He saw a candle burning inside, so he knew someone must be home. He knocked again. No answer.
“It’s freezing out here, let me in!” he shouted.
Still no answer. He eventually made his way to the local synagogue, which remained unlocked, and slept on a bench. The following morning, he returned to Reb Zev’s home, to find the door wide open. Upon entering and seeing Reb Zev at his table, he asked, “Why didn’t you let me in last night?”
“To teach you that you are in charge of your home, and you decide whom to let in,” responded Reb Zev.
This chassid had learned the intended lesson: ultimately, he is the one who can stop distracting thoughts from getting the best of him during prayer.
Well, now that I just told one story, I’m reminded of another. That always seems to happen 🙂
This story centers around a different Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Meir of Premishlan (1783-1850). One time, a group of chassidim were sitting around sharing words of Torah. Someone served a nice-looking piece of meat. These men were pious individuals, and were always very careful about ensuring that the food they ate met the highest standards of Kashrut.
As they discussed back and forth whether the ritual slaughterer of this piece of meat was sufficiently pious for them to eat his meat, Rabbi Meir interrupted them with some sharp words.
“You are so careful about what you put in to your mouth, but what about the words that come out of your mouth?!”
An important lesson about watching what we say — and how we say it.
Oh, and if you’re still wondering why we have two nostrils, I posed the question on Facebook, and an old college friend offered the following: One stays a little congested, so some air moves faster and some slower. The slower one is resting the cilia that clean the air. This pattern alternates sides.