L’El Orech Din- To the One Who Arranges Judgment
“Hinei Yom haDin”- Judgment Day has arrived. This is the powerful message of the Untaneh Tokef prayer, with its depiction of the heavenly court and even the angels trembling before God’s throne. The theme is expanded in the beautiful piyyut on p. 401 (in the Gates of Repentance)- “L’el Orech Din”- an A-Z of judgment.
On Yom Kippur we stand in judgment before God. On the other 364 days of the year, all too often we stand in judgment before others. For some people, every day is judgment day, and they are only too delighted to be judge and jury. I’d like to share with you an email I received from a member of my previous congregation: “I owe you an apology, although quite late I still would like to make it. Many years ago when we were members, you had called me right after Rosh Hashana to ask if there was something that you had done to me and I didn’t address the issue. I was wrong because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings or discuss it. My father-in-law had just passed away and we never heard from you or from the congregation. This was after calling the synagogue and even contacting (she names another member and the state they called from) to relay to you regarding his father’s death. It was a difficult time and your presence would have helped. Consequently we quit the synagogue.”
It was both powerful and healing to me to read this message. Certainly, as a rabbi, I am not in the habit of ignoring members whose parents die- certainly not intentionally. If such a thing happened, and it might, it would be the result of a horrible oversight, and I would hope that my all too human imperfection would be forgiveable. At the point of her writing, many years later, there was no reason to try to defend myself and suggest that, perhaps, just maybe, I hadn’t received the message and that’s why I hadn’t called? I simply replied- “Thank you so much for letting me know. It is my goal to be responsive and supportive to members of the congregation in times of need, and I am sorry I was not the presence that you needed at a difficult time. I appreciate your letting me know and hope that you can forgive me. “
I think about this now, today, on Judgment Day. How quick we are to judge others, to impute the worst possible motives to each other Pirke Avot 1:16 tells us that we must “דן לכף זכות,” that is, judge in the scale of merit, that is, give each other the benefit of the doubt. Today, we all feel the pain of the intense sense of judgment we experience when we examine our own failings.
Let us resolve, in the year ahead, to be kinder and gentler with each other, not rushing to judgment, seeking to understand and impute the highest possible motives to our friends and loved ones, mindful of the wisdom of our tradition, that as we forgive others, so will we be forgiven.