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Parshat Shoftim: Should You Judge Yourself?

by Chaya Rivka Zwolinski

In Parshat Shoftim, the Torah tells us to appoint “shoftim”, judges and officers, to judge the nation. They must judge with integrity. Rebbe Nachman encourages us to judge (evaluate) ourselves with integrity, too. He advises we do this daily, and not wait until Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

One of the most helpful practices to foster spiritual growth is to take some time for daily hitbodedut and spend some of that time talking openly about our transgressions to Hashem. This is integral to the process of teshuvah, returning to Hashem.*

When you take this evaluation and judgment process into your own hands, you are empowered. You free yourself from a lot of serious pressure. Why? Because once you judge yourself you no longer need to be judged in the Heavenly court—you can’t be tried for the same transgression twice.

You also are able to come closer to Hashem because you’ve been honest with Hashem and honest with yourself. Whenever you can be really honest and vulnerable in any relationship, the relationship gains closeness.

Also, this process leads to what I call “holy self-esteem”. Holy self-esteem is the foundation for leading a good life. Holy self-esteem doesn’t mean you ignore your flaws.  Instead, you recognize you are flawed, but don’t allow your flaws to shatter you. Instead, you believe in yourself and believe you are very, very precious to Hashem. You believe doing teshuva and coming closer to Hashem is the best possible way to express your self-worth.

Rebbe Nachman shows us that this process of self-evaluation actually leads to joy. He cautions us not to spend too much time thinking about or confessing our transgressions. (Otherwise you might feel depressed.) Instead, set aside a small amount of time each day,  not too much. You need enough time to experience remorse and regret, you need enough time to experience a broken heart because you ignored Hashem.  You need to feel broken-hearted you did what you did (got angry, didn’t give charity, got jealous, didn’t honor Shabbat, etc.) When you experience this regret, you begin to yearn foor closeness to Hashem. Now you’re broken-hearted.

This broken-heartedness isn’t depression though.  It is something more positive. You’ll come out feeling feel lighter, not depressed. You’ll even feel joy.

May you have a day in which you feel close to Hashem, you believe in yourself, and you feel joyful.

* There are various opinions on the steps of teshuvah, some have four steps, some five or even six. The following is an example of a formula you can use in hitbodedut and beyond. You can begin by doing the steps in the order that makes sense to you, as long as you’re doing it them with sincerity and honesty.

  • Stop the negative behavior (or bad thoughts)
  • Identify and verbally confess your missteps and transgressions to Hashem
  • Experience and verbally express heartfelt remorse to Hashem
  • Verbally resolve to do your best and not repeat your actions (in your confession to Hashem)
  • Make reparations when necessary (for example, if you hurt someone’s feelings, apologize and ask for their forgiveness; if you took something, return it, etc. If you’re not sure what to do, speak to a Rabbi or ask a Torah mentor)

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