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Shabbat Parashat Haazinu| 5765
Divine Employment of Mercy
Along the lines we started last week, we will try to appreciate the Divine system of justice with the help of terms and concepts we are familiar with from the world of human justice. Let us warn that anything we can say is but a small part of the picture of Divine Justice, which we can only pray to catch a glimpse of, if fortunate.
Rosh Hashana is a day of judgment; Yom Kippur is a day of mercy and atonement. Neither the judgment nor the mercy is blind to external factors and there is no mercy without justice or vice versa. However, there is a difference, in focus, in addition to degree, between the two days.
When a person is found guilty in secular court of a certain crime, there are different types of considerations which help determine the severity of his sentencing. One type of consideration is mitigating circumstances. Such things as upbringing, financial or psychological strain, and previous record of contribution to the welfare of society are considered. These take the past into account. Another set of factors, which a wise judge keeps in mind, has to do with the future. Is there a chance that this person can be a positive member of society, and, if so, how can the terms of his incarceration be used to facilitate such an improvement? What messages can be sent to him, which will encourage him to start improving?
The mainstay of our Yom Kippur prayers is the Yud Gimmel Midot (the 13 Divine Attiributes). Hashem taught Moshe to use these words to help obtain the Divine Mercy that is succinctly described therein. Hashem’s mercy is limitless, from one perspective, but it is not blind and unconditional, on the other. The gemara (Bava Kamma 50a) says that whoever says that Hashem is a vatran (let us translate it as “erases human sins”) his life should be erased. Yet there are sources (like the Yerushalmi in Chagiga; see Iyun Ya’akov, ad loc.) that use that same term of “vitur” in regard to the erasing of sins. Rashi implies that it depends on degree. It is a problem to say that Hashem overlooks or erases all sin, but it is possible to say it in regard to a certain amount of sin. Tosafot (a couple of lines later) makes a distinction along the lines of direction, not degree. Hashem delays his response (erech apayim) for the wicked. Is that in their best interest or not? Tosafot says it depends. If they are on the road toward future repentance, then the delay gives them the opportunity to proceed in that direction. For those who will not repent, the respite just results in a more harsh punishment in the world to come.
Divine Mercy fosters the hope of forging a more love-filled relationship with our Maker. Over-reliance on it creates a danger that man will sin without fear (see Rashi, ibid.), as opposed to rebounding from a spiritual fall. It is critical for man to direct himself so that Hashem’s attributes can be employed for his benefit.
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