As part of the functioning society the Torah seeks to create, the Torah requires us to have a judiciary to interpret the law, and an executive to apply it:
שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים, תִּתֶּן-לְךָ בְּכָל-שְׁעָרֶיךָ – You shall place judges and police within all your gates… (16:18)
As with many mitzvos, the Torah speaks to individuals here, and not the community. Does the Torah expect each of us to individually to create a roster of judges and a police force?
While the simple reading is about judges and police, it is not simply a law about the branches of government.
The Shelah instead reads it as Judaism’s source for the principle of personal development and self-regulation. Building a great society starts with individuals. The mitzvah is literally given to you, in the second person possessive, because nobody else could possibly judge or police you in the way only you are uniquely able.
The Kotzker suggests that the mitzvah is literally to gatekeep the openings to our bodies, the sights, sounds, smells, and ideas we let in and out.
R’ Shlomo Farhi notes that we pray every day for a return of the judges of old – הָשִׁיבָה שׁופְטֵינוּ כְּבָרִאשׁונָה – which on this reading, would mean a return to our youthful ideals.
R’ Yisrael Salanter taught that our natural intuition is the only judge and policeman we ever need.
R’ Jonathan Sacks explains that this is a microcosm of the Jewish People’s mission. In our personal lives and in our communities, we have a duty to determine whether there is a gap between where we are and where we ought to be, then taking the necessary steps to bridge it.
Because if we’re tuned in, we know what’s wrong, and we know how to fix it too.