Cantor Eyal Bitton shares a few thoughts on prayer and the parasha of the week.

Looking at Ourselves in the Mirror

2023-08-19 Parashat Shoftim

As Michael Jackson reminded us in his song “Man in the Mirror,” we all have the power to make positive changes in the world by behaving ethically and morally. “I’m starting with the man in the mirror / I’m asking him to change his ways.” But how often do we think about acting ethically when no one is looking? We want to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and be proud of who we see in that reflection.

Parashat Shoftim reminds us that we should always strive to act in a way that is just and ethical. The final verse of the traditional maftir, “You will be doing what is right in the sight of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 21:9), serves as a constant reminder that we are accountable for our actions, not just to our fellow human beings, but to God as well. This is a way of telling us that we should strive to be ethical only in front of those we see, but also when we are not seen.

As we approach the High Holy Days, it’s a perfect time to reflect on our own character and conduct. Are we living up to our own ethical standards? Are we behaving in a way that we can be proud of, even when no one is watching?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that ethical behavior is only important when others are watching or when it affects our reputation. But the truth is that ethical behavior is about much more than meeting other people’s standards – it’s about being able to look at ourselves in the mirror and like what we see. We want to be proud of ourselves. 

This idea is reflected in the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which emphasizes the importance of introspection and self-reflection. These holidays provide us with an opportunity to take stock of our own behavior and ask ourselves whether we are living up to the ethical standards we set for ourselves.

So, as we approach the High Holy Days, let us remember that ethical behavior is not just about meeting external standards – it’s about being true to ourselves and our own values. Let us strive to be the best versions of ourselves, even when no one is watching. As Rabbi Tarfon said, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.” May we all be inspired to act ethically and morally in everything we do, whether or not anyone is watching. May we all be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and be proud.