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Practice, Practice, Practice - Parashat Shoftim 5779, September 6, 2019


This week’s parasha, Parashat Shoftim, opens with the mitzvah to appoint judges and officers upon the entry of the Jewish People into the Land of Israel. The Torah instructs us to institute courts of varying sizes in different locales. In Yerushalayim, we are to appoint a Sanhedrin – a court of seventy judges and a head of the court – the av beit din. In big cities, we are to appoint courts of twenty-three judges; in smaller cities, courts of three.

The author of the
Sefer HaChinuch discusses the root or benefit of this commandment. He explains that these courts, and the officers who support the courts, help acclimate the people to follow the law by instilling a fear of punishment or consequences. Building on this foundation of being accustomed to do that which is good, the people will “teach their natures to do justice and righteousness out of love and out of recognition of the true path”. In other words, promoting society to keep the law is a two-step process: first, the people must adhere to the law, by force if necessary; then the people will learn to do that which is correct out of their own commitment to doing what is just and right.

Building on this idea, the Sefer HaChinuch quotes a statement from our 
chachamim: rav hahergel hu mah sheachar hateva – a lot of habituation is what lies behind nature.
The author explains this statement to mean that just like nature constrains a man to what it wants, so does a strong habit repeat itself, like a persistent nature that constrains a person to always go in the way of the habit.

Habituation is an extremely important tool in education. There is a famous study cited by Malcolm Gladwell that claims that expertise in any area requires 10,000 hours of practice.



Practice is critical in every area of a student’s life: mathematics, reading, athletics, kindness and in Torah learning and observance. Practice instills patterns of thought. Practice helps a student develop problem-solving skills. Practice instills in a student the confidence to try again even after failure. As we are in the month of Elul, let us ourselves practice and teach our children to practice learning and doing mitzvot and build the habits of growth and improvement.

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