This article on the portion of the week was previously published in 2017.
I'm sure you've all seen and used the little monkey emoji that have their eyes, ears, and mouths covered. But have you ever considered where they come from and what it means? The origins for these three fellas are a bit obscure. They are Japanese in origin, depicted on the walls of a Shinto shrine, but have probable Buddhist and even Hindu roots as well. Although in our Western culture, they usually have a negative connotation in that they describe someone who would turn a blind eye to wrongdoing, their original meaning is that it is wise to "see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil." (Sometimes there is a fourth one, by the way, with his hands crossed portraying the "do no evil.")
This week's portion is called Shoftim meaning "Judges," and in the Torah we read about the details of how the judicial system was to be carried out. Rav Berg would often teach regarding this portion that there are gates a soul goes through upon leaving this world. At each one, there is a guard, who either lets the soul through or not. These gates also correspond to the gates we have in our own being – our eyes, mouths, noses, etc. – the openings through which we perceive our reality.
Have you ever found that when you don't like someone for whatever reason it seems that everything they do, even if it is totally benign, is wrong? Most likely we've all been there. The reason for it is that we actually don't sense reality as it is. Our eyes see or our ears hear something, but everything is filtered through our mind. In the case of an individual you don't like, you see them through an internal lens that makes everything they do distasteful.
None of us are truly objective. To one extent or another, our perception has been adulterated. Our way of viewing the world is formed by a number of things – the environment we grew up in, society, religion, culture, belief systems etc. Yet it says in the Bible that when we leave this world, we won't only be judged by our deeds, but also by our senses, by how we perceived reality. So what are we to do?
To be spiritually conscious is to live with an awareness of what we let in and out of our eyes, ears, and mouths. We are gifted with the power to choose to see what is right in others rather than what is wrong with them. We can be aware of the opportunity to say a kind word about someone and to refrain from hearing gossip. Even if there is an individual we totally don't jive with at all, we can find at least one good trait and make that our focus, realizing that we create a blessing for ourselves through that effort.
Being conscious of your gates does not mean that you put yourself in the way of harmful people or give up your common sense and good judgment. But what it does mean is that you consider what you are going to say before you say it, or step back and consider another point of view before reacting.
It is so quick and easy to approach a person, to size them up and in an instant compare ourselves to them or find fault (although this usually has more to do with our own insecurity than anything else). To see with what we call in Hebrew an "ayin tov" (a good eye) means to perceive with kindness, to remember that there is a Divine spark in every one of God's children. It seems like a small effort, inconsequential maybe, but when we see the Light in others, our own light shines brighter in the world.