Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 1 September 2018 / 21 Elul 5778

Rosh Hashana, Perfect Justice

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
ArtscrollLibrary

Chazal tell us that on Rosh Hashana everyone passes before G-d one-by-one in single file and is judged for the year to come. However, Chazal tell us further: Rabbah bar bar Chana said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, all of them are looked at in one glance (Rosh Hashana 18a). The commentaries note the apparent contradiction: Passing one-by-one in front of G-d to be judged individually directly contradicts the idea of being judged communally in one glance. It is our job to try to understand what Chazal intend to teach us about the judgment of Rosh Hashana and how we can apply it practically to our own judgment.

The Torah describes G-d as: the Rock — perfect is His work for all His ways are justice, a G-d of faith without wickedness, He is righteous and fair (Devarim 32:4). Rav Yitzchak Belzer, zatzal, asks: Why is the fact that there is no wickedness in His judgments considered to be a praise to G-d? After all, even an earthly court is expected to at least meet that standard! (Kochvei Ohr, maamar 3) Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zatzal, offers the following answer. In an earthly court, judgment is handed out solely based on the transgressor’s actions. If a person’s actions deserve a certain punishment, then he is given that punishment without taking into account how the punishment will affect his wife, children, friends and all others around him. G-d, however, orchestrates things in such a way that everyone gets exactly what he deserves.

For example, if according to a person’s spiritual standing he deserves to get sick but his wife and children do not deserve to go through the trouble and pain of taking care of a sick husband and father, then G-d will not make him sick. Obviously, justice will be served at some point, either in this world or the next, but so long as his family doesn’t deserve the pain that would come about through his becoming sick, he wouldn’t become sick. This is the praise of the verse that says there is no wickedness in His judgments. There is no wickedness even in how the judgment of one person affects those around him; everyone only gets what they deserve (Sichot Mussar, Ha’azinu).

This idea is further demonstrated through the verse in Tehillim that says: “The judgments of G-d are true, altogether they are upright” (19:10). The real praise here is not just that G-d's judgments are upright; that is not considered praise to the Almighty. Rather the praise is that His judgments are upright altogether. In other words, the totality of His judgments and the overall ramifications of His judgments are also upright (Michtav M’Eliyahu, vol. 3 pp. 252-253, in the name of Rav Yisrael Salanter, zatzal).

We can now understand the words of Chazal that we started with. Really, as hinted at by the idea of passing in front of G-d one-by-one, everyone is judged individually on Rosh Hashana to determine his upcoming year. However, as hinted at by being looked at communally in one glance, everyone’s judgment also takes into account how it will affect those around him. So, even when one doesn’t deserve a good judgment based on his personal performance, nevertheless, he can still be given a good judgment because of his relationship with others. According to this, one should try to help as many people as possible and thereby merit a good judgment on Rosh Hashana, and see the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.

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