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There is an ancient Cherokee anecdote that is told of a chief that sits around the fireplace with the children of the reservation. He tells the children, “You should know that within each of you, a war is being waged between two wolves. The first wolf is a wolf of love, tolerance, patience, compassion, peace, and contentment. The second wolf is a wolf of hatred, intolerance, impatience, anger, strife, and disharmony.” One of the children asks the chief, “Which wolf will win the war?” To this, the chief responds, “Whichever wolf you feed.”

This week’s Torah portion opens with the command, “You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all of your gates [of your cities]” (Deut. 16:18). For the Jewish mystics, this instruction is incredibly relevant to each and every one of us in each and every generation. They explain that a person is metaphorically like a city. Therefore, the Torah is cautioning us to set up guards at the entryways to our own personal cities.

There are seven gates to our cities. They are our two eyes, our two nostrils, our two ears, and our mouths. We must be on guard not only with regard to what we allow to enter these gates but also to what we allow to exit them. This means to be cautious not to look at what might be harmful, not to smell what might be harmful, not to listen to that which might be harmful, and not to eat or speak that which might be harmful.

The founder of Chassidus known as the Baal Shem Tov stated, “You are where your thoughts are.” Your thoughts are a product of all that you see, hear, smell, taste; essentially all that you interact with. So many today are plagued with depression and anxiety. When we probe further, this is not surprising. We discover that these people are often watching shows and movies that are full of discord, and listening to songs that are full of angst. If they would only put up filters to make sure that the content they are taking into systems is “kosher” and filled with positive messages, they would find themselves a lot more content.

It is within our power to significantly improve the caliber of our lives by taking to heart this simple yet profound guidance of the Torah. May we merit to do so and as a result live happier and healthier lives.

Shabbat Shalom

– Rabbi Liad Braude

Parshat shoftim