Sunday, September 5, 2010

How to Bribe Gd

[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here]

Just a quick Torah thought, synopsis of a greater discussion, leading up to Rosh haShanah. If you want something a little lighter, you might think about clicking on that Haveil Havalim link above.

In three separate discussions, the gemara challenges our right to expect Divine clemency. The Torah tells us that Gd is a Judge who does not show partisan favor or accept bribes, so the gemara challenges the biblical blessing of ישא ד' פניו אליך, “HaShem will lift His face toward you,” which indicates a show of special favor. How could a fair judge show favor to a litigant? [The question itself is posed oddly agrammatically in the gemara, but אכמ"ל.]

The gemara’s answers in those three different discussions are:
1. HaShem only shows favor in matters that are between us and Gd, not in matters between one human being and another (Rosh haShanah 17b)

2. HaShem only shows favor before the verdict (Niddah 70b)

3. HaShem shows favor to those who transcend their obligations (Berachos 20b)

I believe all three answers draw on the same point: That our hope lies in moving Gd off of the judicial bench.

1. If it’s a matter between myself and others, Gd is a judge. But if it’s between myself and Gd, then Gd is not judge but plaintiff, and Gd can choose to drop the charges;

2. Before concluding a trial, Gd can choose to cease serving as a judge (much as Sanhedrin 6b discusses the power of a human judge to counsel compromise before concluding the trial);

3. If I transcend my legal obligations, then I show that I am not appealing to the law as a standard for my benefit, at all. Therefore, Gd does not adjudicate my liability based on the law, either.

Perhaps this is one reason why we don’t appeal to Gd for forgiveness with viduy, etc on Rosh haShanah – Because on that day Gd has already declared the role of Judge, כי חק לישראל הוא משפט לאלקי יעקב. So we wait until afterward, when that role of Judge is not guaranteed, and then we do our best to convince Gd not to serve as judge, and to offer clemency.


  1. i thought the question of jugment is more about Yom Kippur, and Rosh-hashana is more about sicha and celebrating another year from Gd's creation of universe..

  2. Thanks! I need all of the angles I can get!

  3. Danit-
    Thanks for commenting. Certainly, recognizing היום הרת עולם is critical to the day, but Rosh HaShanah as יום הדין, as in the first mishnah in Masechet Rosh haShanah, cannot be ignored.

    I'm guessing this is Brad...?

  4. Not quite the same, but a related notion that always struck me as important. Rav Charlop, in אורי וישעי, points out that it is a rule of Divine justice that we are judged as we behave. Measure for measure.

    Normally, to ask for mercy is to ask for a breach of justice. Rosh Hashanah is the יום הדין, the day of justice. You should get what you truly deserve.

    So, what happens if, in fact, I am a merciful person? What if I treat others flexibly, mercifully, kindly? Then the 'measure for measure' rule requires that I be judged the same way; because that is how I judge others. In such a case, mercy isn't a compromise of justice; it is a fulfillment of it.

    Hashem decreed this as a day of justice. We can satisfy that demand, and still ask for mercy for ourselves, only if we are merciful individuals. That way, we bring about a synthesis of justice and mercy that doesn't cause a violation of either. Hashem's signature is truth.

    Shanah tovah!

  5. Hello R' Mordechai,
    Interesting - and look at next week's Toronto Torah, in a column by Russell Levy, for more on that theme.