This week’s Torah reading begins with the commandment to appoint judges in all communities. This points to one of the fundamental thrusts of Judaism: that a person be continually prepared to subject himself and his conduct to the review of an outside, objective authority. That authority, however, is not merely another person wiser and/or more experienced than oneself, but rather a repository of Torah knowledge. His decisions reflect the Torah’s wisdom, and not his own.

In that vein, our Sages refer to a Torah scholar as “a walking Torah scroll.” For the guidance which he gives is an extension of the rulings of the Torah and not merely what he thinks is right at the moment.

To explain this principle: Judaism is not merely confined to the synagogue. Its scope goes beyond the realms of prayer and study and encompasses every human endeavor. Therefore the Torah contains laws governing agriculture, commerce, employer-employee relationships and other matters which we would not ordinarily place in the sphere of religion.

Needless to say, all the situations one encounters in these areas are not cut and dry and there is not necessarily an explicit injunction in Torah law governing every given circumstance. This is the purpose of a Torah judge. He must use the principles of Torah law to determine the course of action to follow when the Torah does not tell us precisely what to do. By doing so, he brings all the different elements of our worldly activities into connection with the Torah, showing how a person can bring the Torah into every aspect of his life.

This concept applies not only within the personal realm, the guidance and direction a particular individual needs in his personal life, but also to communities at large. In that vein, our Sages teach that the judges of the Sanhedrin, Israel’s highest court, may not sit in repose in their chamber in the Temple courtyard, but instead must “gird themselves with bands of steel, lift his robes above his knees, and traverse from city to city\'85 to teach the Jewish people.” For every Jewish community and our people as a whole should have its direction set by the compass of the Torah’s principles. Instead of depending on the vicissitudes of mortal knowledge, our course should be steered by the spiritual insight the Torah endows.

By empowering Torah judges to show true leadership in the present era, we anticipate the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will return your judges as in former times,” with the coming of Mashiach in whose time the Sanhedrin will again convene and guide our people.