In the beginning of this week’s parsha, the Torah commands the Jewish people to appoint judges who are honest, do not corrupt judgments and do not take bribes because bribes will blind the most brilliant of judges. Immediately after the mitzva of appointing honest judges, the Torah teaches us the prohibition of planting an Asheira tree. An Asheira tree was a tree that looked like any other tree. However, its purpose was to be used as an object of idol worship.
The Talmud notes the juxtaposition of these two laws – honest judges and Asheira trees – and explains that anybody who appoints non-trustworthy judges is as though he planted an Asheira tree. What is the connection between poor judges and an Asheira tree?
Rabbi Mordechai Kaminetzky makes note of this question and explains it quoting Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. An Asheira tree is as beautiful as any other tree, but man has turned its natural beauty into a vehicle for blasphemy. A judge may have an honest appearance. He might wear a long kapote and have a beautiful flowing beard. His image might exude honesty and integrity. However, if he is inherently dishonest, then he is no better than a beautiful tree whose sole purpose is to promote heresy.
The judge and the Asheira tree might have beautiful appearances – they appear kosher externally – but they are the opposite – internally are not – they bring disgrace to G-d.
The Torah also presents this idea in last week’s Parsha. Why would the Torah write a similar idea – the importance of internal and external kashrus – in two consecutive parshios? Perhaps it is a temptation of our nature to show one appearance and in reality be somebody different. Perhaps that is a challenge that G-d is presenting to us in preparation for Rosh Hashana? Don’t put on the appearance of somebody you’re not. When people see you, they should know what they are getting. As the saying doesn’t go, “All good things do not necessarily come in ‘trees’.”