Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
Judge Me Tender, Judge Me Sweet
We are living in the last few days of the Jewish year 5760. The year 5761
will begin, and with it we'll begin a new cycle in the progression toward
fulfilling G-d's purpose of creating the universe. G-d will judge us all on
Rosh Hashanah regarding past performance, and accordingly, He will make
promotions and demotions, "revise and renew contracts" in terms of "period
of employment," what His expectations are, and the circumstances under
which we will play our unique role in the year to come.
It is noteworthy that Rosh Hashanah is fearful day, but at the same time it
is considered a Yom Tov, a day of celebration. Another dichotomy exists as
well. In the work Yaaros D'vash it is written that at the time the shofar
is blown on Rosh HaShanah, the judgment takes place. In the Midrash
(VaYikrah Rabbah 29:3) it states that when the shofar is blown, G-d gets up
from His throne of judgement, as it were, and sits on the throne of mercy.
On the one hand, the shofar blowing brings about judgement, and on the
other hand it evokes mercy.
Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, ZT"L points out the aforementioned paradox, and
explains that it can be understood in the following way. There is mercy in
judgement. The concept of mercy in judgement applies itself when a judge
knows that the person being judged is truly remorseful for his actions, and
ready to change. If a judge would be able to know that with certainty, then
the means necessary to effect change in the wrongdoer can be much more
lenient. Punishment reflects a need to force someone to change, and instill
fear in those who would otherwise act inappropriately. Stringent punishment
is unnecessary when the "criminal" truly recognizes the evil of his
"crime," and wishes to change. Punishment is not revenge, but a purposeful
way of bringing about change. If change will come by itself, there is no
need for punishment.
If we acknowledge that we are here in this world to grow and improve
ourselves, and that growing is an ongoing process, we look forward to
seeing results. We welcome evaluation which facilitates our personal and
communal improvement. When G-d takes notice of our sincere eagerness to
become better agents of His will, He views our shortcomings as the judge
would who sees "the defendant" is committed to change. It goes without
saying that growing is still a painful process, and the evaluation and
decision-making that G-d does strikes in us a fear of the unknown even in
the best of circumstances. We can't help but wonder what is it that G-d may
be sending our way this coming year to effect our growth and to bring out
our unique potential. Knowing these decisions are made on Rosh Hashanah
makes it a truly fearful day, with a lot hanging in the balance.
At the same time we are aware of the greatness of the day, and we take
advantage of that knowledge. We dedicate the day to crowning G-d as our
king and accepting the "yoke" of performing His commandments. We are
confident because we are in G-d's hands, and we can hope for judgement
which is mitigated by mercy. We will ultimately be better people for
undergoing this process. This gives us reason to celebrate.
Improvement necessitates introspection, and when we introspect we need to
consider what might be stopping us from seeing ourselves in an objective
light. We also need to examine what might get in the way of being motivated
to make changes. There is an insightful thought which throws some light on
this subject. When Moses recounts the events which took place at the time
the Torah was given, he states, "I am standing between Hashem and you."
Moses was the go-between. Rabbi Sholom Noach Brezovsky, the Slonimer Rebbe
ZT"L, explains in a different vein that it can be read figuratively as
follows. "I," meaning the ego, is standing between each person and G-d.
One's ego and desires cloud objectivity, and bribe us to prioritize in a
way which leaves G-d out of the picture. Worse, they cause us to follow an
all-exclusive path of self-indulgence on principle. The cure for this is a
shift in priorities, which is what Rosh Hashanah is all about. When we
sincerely decide to subjugate our will to G-d's will, the Torah, and we
make our own will secondary, it frees us from subjectivity. We can stand
back and observe ourselves from a higher vantage point. Once "I" is used as
a means to serve G-d, and get closer to Him, then it no longer separates us
from our spiritual potential, but just the opposite, the "I" factor
enhances our spirituality.
Lastly, it must be stated, that the fact that there is a judgement conveys
very clearly to us that we have incredible potential. G-d judges people
because people have choice, and the ability to use their choice for good.
The greatness which we are capable of is definitively beyond our wildest
dreams. Our souls derive from a spiritual realm much higher than the
highest ministering angels, and we are capable of elevating ourselves to
that level. With the knowledge of what we can accomplish, and the
willingness to grow qualitatively, may we all merit a new year in which our
relationship with G-d becomes our first priority and our foremost pleasure.
Good Shabbos, Good Yom Tov! May we all be written and sealed for a good
and sweet year!
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Dovid Green and Project Genesis, Inc.