This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, is always read on the first Shabbat of the month of Elul. As nothing is accidental, this Parshah must contain important lessons for us to implement during this auspicious month.

Shoftim means “judges.” The Torah commands us to appoint a hierarchy of righteous judges in every city and province. On a literal level, this commandment refers to judges who adjudicate civil, criminal and religious issues. On a deeper level, however, this commandment, as well as its details, has great meaning for every one of us in our personal lives. Let us examine one of this law’s details:

“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe.”

A person is “bribed” by a sense of self-love, and is incapable of rendering a completely fair self-evaluationOnce the Torah prohibits the perversion of justice, is it necessary to ban bribery? Can there be a greater miscarriage of justice than bribery? Rashi, the preeminent Bible commentator, explains that the Torah forbids bribery even in an instance where the giver stipulates that the money is being given on condition that the judge issues a fair verdict! For as soon as the judge is thus “bribed,” he will be biased in favor of that particular party, and will be unable to issue an objective ruling. As the verse continues: “for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.” As soon as a kinship exists between a judge and one of the litigants, that judge is unfit to preside over that case.

During the month of Elul, every person is expected to judge his or her actions and accomplishments of the previous year. However, every person is “bribed” by a sense of self-love, and is incapable of rendering a completely fair evaluation. Therefore, every person must appoint a “judge,” an impartial spiritual mentor who can issue an objective opinion.

Furthermore, the very knowledge that at the end of every week or month one will have to discuss one’s spiritual accomplishments with another is oftentimes enough to impel an individual onto the path of improvement. As Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai said to his disciples, “If only you would fear G‑d as much as you fear your fellow man.”