“You must appoint judges and officers for you in all your gates” (Devarim 16,18)
It is a positive commandment to appoint judges and officers who will force the people to fulfil the commandments of the Torah. They will return those who stray from the path of truth to the correct path against their will and they will command the people in what is appropriate to do and they will prevent repulsive things. They will also enforce the boundaries on those who transgress until the commandments of the Torah and its preventative measures will no longer rely on the faith of each individual. Amongst the conditions of this commandment is that these judges must be divided into different levels by appointing twenty-three judges in every single city who will meet together in one place at one of the gates of the state which is appropriate for this number of people and this is termed “a small Sanhedrin”, and also appointing in Jerusalem a large court of judgement (Beth Din) which consists of seventy judges. We must appoint over those seventy-one who is called “the Rosh Yeshiva” or “Nasi” and they must all gather in the place which is set aside for them. A place which has few residents and therefore is not suitable even for a small Sanhedrin, must appoint at least three judges who will judge small matters and they should bring difficult matters before the judges who are senior to them.
Similarly, they should appoint representatives amongst the people who will circulate in the city, in the marketplaces and in the streets, who will look into the commercial affairs of people who are sellers and buyers until there no longer exists unfairness between them even in small matters. This is the commandment of “You must appoint judges and officers for you in all your gates”.
The root of the commandment is obvious for through this issue, we will establish our law as the fear of the multitude and our judges as (ruling) over the masses. Through developing their habits in the good and straight way out of fear, the people will accustom their nature to do that which is just and righteous through love, out of their recognition of the true path, and when the people follow the path of faith and trustworthiness and choose to do that which is good, the good will cleave to them and Hashem will be happy with their deeds.
This commandment applies, that is to say, the commandment to appoint a big Sanhedrin, a small Sanhedrin and Beth Din of three applies in the land of Israel when there is smicha (the traditional unbroken chain of leaders of the Jewish people who would pass the role of law keeping onto appropriate disciples through the action of smicha), but not outside the land of Israel for smicha does not apply outside the land. Nonetheless anyone who was appointed by smicha in the land of Israel, is also fitting to judge outside the land of Israel. However, they do not have permission to judge cases of capital punishment, not in the land of Israel and not outside the land, apart from at a time when the Beth Hamikdash is standing and at a time when the Sanhedrin is established in Jerusalem.
This is one of the commandments which is incumbent on the entire community in each and every place. A community which is suitable to appoint a Beth Din amongst them and does not do so, transgresses this commandment and their punishment is exceedingly great for this commandment is a strong pillar of the fulfilment of the law.
From this commandment we can learn that even though nowadays, due to our sins, we no longer have judges who have smicha, nonetheless each and every community in each and every place should appoint some of their best citizens who will have power over all of them to force them with all types of enforcement which will cause them to fear, to keep the commandments of the Torah and to prevent any despicable act or anything similar to it. These appointed people should strive constantly for the good of their friends (members of the community) who are close to them to teach them the path of truth and to work with all their strength to keep peace between them. They should encourage the people to abandon, to leave and to forget all their worldly pleasures and concentrate on, and most of their thoughts and actions should revolve around these ideas so that the verse “and the wise people will shine like the glow of the firmament and those who make the masses righteous (shall shine) like stars forever more.”