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THE EQUILIBRIUM HOLIDAY
Rosh Hashana is the holiday of mixed emotions. It is a day of precise judgment, but yet a day of joy. A day to tap into our humility, while we celebrate it as a holiday. I always had a hard time figuring out what state of mind to be in, on Rosh Hashana. To cry, or not to cry? This was always for me a bottleneck of emotions. The Halacha is that I am allowed to cry only if I am brought to tears from the depth of feeling of my prayers. This is the only day of the year that even our tears have an instruction manual. What is all this emotional tightroping? Even in the blowing of Shofar, there is somewhat a mixture of G-d’s Attributes.עלה אלוקים בתרועה יקוק בקול שופר.(Tehillim 47 6) The Alshich points out that Elokim is the Attribute of Judgement, while YHVH is the Attribute of G-d’s Mercy, which is activated when a person taps into Shofar, or שפרו מעשיכם, better your ways. What is the point of this “equilibrium”?
The Sefer Hachinuch explains for us the concept of Rosh Hashana. “It is from G-d’s kindness toward his creations to judge and inspect their actions once a year, in order that they not sin too much, and that there be a place for kapparah… This day is the day that holds up the world, and that is why we make it a holiday. And because it is a day of judgment, it is appropriate to approach it with fear and trepidation more than any Holiday.”
Rashi quotes the Midrash in the beginning of this week’s parasha. “Why is it that the Parasha of Nitzavim (literally, standing up) is next to the curses and threats of Parashat Ki Tavo for those who do not keep the Torah? Because after the Jews heard the 98 curses, and after they heard the 49 of Sefer Vayikra, their faces changed colors, and they said, Who can stand up to these?! Moshe calmed them and said, אתם נצבים היום You are standing today; you angered Hashem so much, and yet He still did not put an end to you, and you are all still standing…”
This is hard to understand. Wasn’t the purpose of the curses and threats to warn Klal Yisrael to be careful to keep the Torah, every Mitzvah? What was Moshe doing calming them down, diminishing their fear, telling them they don’t have anything to be afraid of? Why was he mixing up their emotions?
But the answer is that all that G-d wants is sincerity. He knows who we are, our backgrounds, our weaknesses and our tests. He does not ask of you more than you are able to do. But just one thing: Be serious about it. Once the Jews turned colors, Moshe knew that they were taking it seriously. And this is the purpose of the equilibrium. G-d has a place for Mercy, and that place is reserved for those who take Him and His Torah seriously. Not for the ones who say שלום יהיה לי כי בשרירות לבי אלך- Peace will be to me, as I follow the dictates of my heart…
Every year, G-d creates the world anew. Rashi, on the first passuk, בראשית ברא אלוקים says that in the beginning, G-d wanted to create the world with His Name Elokim, the Attribute of Judgment. Rashi’s commentary is based on a Midrash Breshit on the words (in Bereishit), אֵ֣לֶּה תוֹלְד֧וֹת הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ בְּהִבָּֽרְאָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם עֲשׂ֛וֹת יְקֹוָ֥ק אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶ֥רֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם: – These are the creations of the Heavens and the Earth, when He created them. On the day that YHVH Elokim created the earth and the Heavens. The Midrash says, “YHVH Elokim” – it is similar to a King that had empty cups. The King said, if I put hot water into them, they will explode. Cold water, they will implode. What did the king do? He mixed hot and cold water, and he put it into the cups and they remained undamaged. So, HKBH said, if I create the world with My Attribute of Mercy, there will be a lot of sinners. If I create it with the Attribute of Judgment, how can the world stand? Therefore, I am creating the world with a mixture of both Mercy and Judgment, and I hope it will last!
G-d’s judgment is meant to prevent sin. The point of Rosh Hashana is that we take this day and think that even if we have sinned, we are happy to be aware that we have sinned, and we know what we have to work on.
Recently, a thought came to mind. The letters YHVH are a shortened version of היה הווה ויהיה He was, He is, He will be. What does this have to do with Mercy? The Attribute of Mercy is, in Hebrew, רחמים, Rachamim. The Abarbanel (Ki Tisa 34) says that the word רחמים comes from the word רחם Rechem. Womb. What does this mean?
G-d’s Mercy does not mean that G-d just lets things pass. וויתור. He does so only with the logic of a womb. The womb symbolizes a place where there is no place. To make room for someone where there is no room for that person to exist. So to, with mercy, G-d created room for the sinner to repent. How, exactly, does He do that?
The womb symbolizes that for the sake of the future, it is worth dealing with the present. Don’t look at the present for what it is; look at it with the future in mind. Look at the good that is going to be born. G-d has patience with a person as he is, in the present, because He knows that this person has the potential for growth and improvement.
There are three ways G-d finds a place for a person who is, seemingly, undeserving. His past – he may have some merit in his past or from his parents. זכות אבות. His present- באשר הוא שם. Even if he will be bad in the future, for now, he is good. His future – Moshe did not kill the Egyptian until he saw, with his Ruach Hakodesh, that nothing good was going to come out of this Egyptian. Being that G-d is היה הווה ויהיה – He is not bound by time. He is in the past, present, and future, all at the same time. G-d can see things for our merit that we may not see. That is why we cannot explain G-d’s decision of צדיק ורע לו – רשע וטוב לו – why good things happen to bad people, or bad things happen to good people. This is an outcome of His מדת הרחמים, the Attribute of Mercy.
So, we say before blowing the Shofar, Alah Elokim bitruah, Hashem b’kol shofar. Elokim – His Attribute of Justice ascends with the t’ruah blast; but His Attribute of Mercy, YKVK, ascends with the sound of Shofar, of improvement. The message of the Shofar is Shipru Maasechem, improve your deeds, and by doing so, G-d will reveal Himself as YHVH and find a place for you, even if you are not deserving, but in the merit of the new you of the New Year