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PRACTICAL ADVICE

by Rabbi Daniel Estreicher    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, has arrived. It is an awesome day. In the Netane Tokef prayer we say "kee hu nora v'ayom - for it is awesome and frightening." Even the angels tremble as Hashem opens the book of remembrances for each of us and decides our fate.

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Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, has arrived. It is an awesome day. In the Netane Tokef prayer we say "kee hu nora v'ayom - for it is awesome and frightening." Even the angels tremble as Hashem opens the book of remembrances for each of us and decides our fate.

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, rosh yeshiva (dean) of the famed Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem of the past generation, suggests several ways by which we can help push our judgment to the side of life. First of all, we can strive to instill in ourselves the attribute of anava, humility, for one who seeks humility can be spared Divine retribution. The sages draw a remarkable parallel to this fact from the laws pertaining to a house afflicted with tzaraat (a disease which can be contracted by people, garments, and houses, rendering them ritually impure). The law is that even if we were to suspect that a house had contracted tzaraat, the administering Kohen (priest) does not open the windows of a dark house in order to examine it. Although the house may in fact be afflicted with the disease, it is not necessarily deemed ritually impure. If it is dark and thereby not displaying itself nor publicizing itself, the Kohen does not illuminate and reveal its afflictions. So too the harsh lights of rebuke and judgment will not be shown upon a humble person, even though he may have some blemishes of sin (Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 92a).

Rabbi Shmulevitz emphasizes that this character trait is extremely difficult to achieve, since maintaining a high level of self-esteem is so important if we are to accomplish difficult tasks in the service of Hashem. We must believe in ourselves; nothing is too hard. On the other hand, we must be humble and unassuming, similar to the dark house whose blemishes are not scrutinized.

An additional method of tempering the harshness of Divine judgment is by judging one's fellow man in a favorable manner. The sages declare that one who judges his fellow man favorably is himself judged favorably by Hashem (Talmud Tractate Shabbat 127b). At first glance, equating human judgment with Divine judgment would seem incongruous. People can never be sure of the motives of their neighbor and therefore should judge them favorably, giving them the benefit of the doubt. But how can we say the same about Divine justice? Are there any doubts before Hashem?

Rabbi Shmulevitz explains that this aspect of Hashem's judging favorably refers to when someone does something good, but his motives remain unclear. In such a case, if that person judged others in a favorable manner, Hashem will look at that person's actions from a positive point of view.

The third aspect emphasized by Rabbi Shmulevitz is that of rachamim, mercy. "He who shows compassion towards Hashem's creatures is in turn granted Hashem's mercy." Rabbi Yehudah, the great compiler of the Mishnah, suffered terribly due to the lack of compassion he once expressed towards an animal. The Talmud (Tractate Baba Metziah 85a) recounts that there was once a calf being taken to the slaughterhouse when it broke away from its owner and hid its head under Rabbi Yehudah's cloak, crying in terror. Rabbi Yehudah told it to go, "for it was for this purpose that you were created." At that moment, it was declared in Heaven that since Rabbi Yehudah had no pity, he himself shall suffer. Eventually, his anguish was relieved when one day his maid was sweeping the house and a litter of kittens was laying in the broom's path. Rabbi Yehudah told her to leave the kittens alone, for we say in the Ashrei prayer three times a day, "V'rachamav al kol ma'asav - Hashem is merciful on all of His creatures." In Heaven it was proclaimed that since Rabbi Yehudah is compassionate, Hashem will be merciful towards him.

"Rachameinu k'rachem av al banim - Have compassion upon us like a father has compassion upon his children" (Rosh Hashanah prayers). King David cried when he heard about the death of his rebellious son Avshalom. Though we have rebelled against You Hashem, we beg you, please be merciful towards all of us, for we are Your children, and a father forgives his children no matter how badly they may have sinned or rebelled.

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Rabbi Daniel Estreicher has been a teacher at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for over twenty years.

You are invited to read more Rosh Hashanah articles.

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