For the week ending 12 September 2015 / 28 Elul 5775

Two Days and Two Judgments

by Rabbi Dr. Guy Matalon
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The Mishna (Rosh Hashanah 16a) teaches that there are four times during the year when different aspects of the natural world are judged. For example, on Pesach, harvests are judged; on Atzeret (Shavuot), fruits are judged; and lastly, on Succot, water is judged. Humanity is judged on Rosh Hashanah. The Mishna says, “…all who are on the earth pass before Him, one by one, like ‘bnei maron’.” The term bnei maron is understood by the gemara in Tractate Rosh Hashanah (18a) in three ways: Firstly, like young sheep; secondly, like the stairs in the house of Maron, i.e., a narrow staircase that allows only one person at a time to climb; thirdly, like the soldiers of King David who were counted one by one before going into battle. Then the gemara adds, “Rabba bar bar Chana said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, ‘They are all surveyed with one survey’.”

The gemara seems to teach us two contrary teachings: We are each judged individually, and, according to Rabbi Yochanan, we are judged all together. How are we to understand this?

Rabbi Dessler, in Michtav M’Eliyahu (Vol. 2 Rosh Hashanah) suggests that we have two types of judgments, and we find hints of them in Jewish sources. For example, the Zohar in Parshat Pinchas (231a) writes that Rosh Hashanah is always two days, where the first day is called “din kashya” (strong judgment) and the second day is called “din rafya” (weak judgment). The Ramak, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570), in his commentary on the Zohar, Ohr Yakar, explains that the first judgment is individual, whereas the second judgment is general.

On the first day we are judged according to our own merits and transgressions, and they are weighed using a qualitative scale known only to G-d, as the Rambam explains in Laws of Teshuva (3.4). On the second day we are evaluated according to our effect and influence on the Jewish People. That is, to what extent does the Jewish nation need us? It is theoretically possible that a person may be judged as an evil person (G-d forbid) on the first day, and yet his sentence would be overturned because of his role for the Jewish People.

As the old adage states, “If the king needs the services of the condemned man, he is brought back from the gallows.” If the Jewish nation needs a particular person because of what he does for the Jewish People, then even if he has more sins than mitzvot he is left to continue his important service to the greater society.

We cannot be sure how we would fare before G-d on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, but we can do teshuva (repent), increase our connection to Torah and strengthen our acts of kindness for others. Consider also taking a greater role for Jewish People. Make yourself indispensable to your family, to your community, to your people — and thereby may you merit to be judged favorably on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

Rabbi David of Lalov used to say, “May we have a good year with big ‘Kiddush Levana’ letters!” A year where everyone can easily see the goodness and blessings of the year, just as the letters of the Kiddush Levana prayer can be seen clearly even from far away.

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