by: Mark Kirschbaum on August 24th, 2012 | Comments Off
“Judges and magistrates shall you set before you at all your gates…”
While contemporary Jewry may seem like a top heavy organization with a bloated self appointed leadership proclaiming ever more severe rulings and extremist dogmas generally foreign to traditional texts and practices, and its concern with “Stadium Judaism”, Jewish mystical thought, and the Hassidic movement in particular, became popular because of their emphasis upon the spiritual uniqueness of each individual, giving universal meaning to every tear, every moment of pain of each individual. This way this week’s text, which seemingly deals with just that kind of bureaucratic process, is read by the mystics, is a perfect example of what the movement was once about.
Whereas in the classical medieval commentators these sections provided an opportunity to discuss political and social issues, from the Shenei Luchot Habrit (the Shel”a) onwards there is a tendency to internalize these commandments, reading them as referring to psychological states. Less concerned with the political workings of a society, the Hasidic masters turned these ordinances inward, into statements of inner governance. The Shel”a’s reading of the verse “judges and magistrates you shall set up at your gates” hinges upon the word ‘your’, thus understanding the verse as commanding a personal, internal critique at the portals of entry of sensory information to consciousness, that is at the senses. One needs to create an internal monitoring service to filter and process incoming information.
In a quotation attributed to the Baal Shem Tov, the Degel Mahane Ephraim gives specific form to the types of filters with which we must process the outside world- with “judges” referring to love of God, and “magistrates” referring to fear or awe of God; with love and awe filters on we must analyze every action we undertake (as opposed to the spam filters we operate on our emails). The Shem M’Shemuel suggests that there must be a master “chush“, a master sensory input filter, which integrates all the other senses into a spiritually correct vision, so to speak, to which this verse refers.
This approach can perhaps be translated into contemporary analytic language; this filter we might call the “super-ego”, a category that appears late in Freud’s writings.