We are told over and over about the power of prayer. We know that Hashem is more merciful that any person we could ever imagine. And Chazal tell us that Hashem waits for our prayers.
If we accept that our fate for the coming year is decided on Rosh Hashanah, you would imagine that we would spend the entire day in shul, with tears streaming down our cheeks, imploring, beseeching, begging Hashem for mercy. While it’s true that the davening on Rosh Hashanah is different, for most people that isn’t an apt description. The question is why?
Part of the reason is because the judgment on Rosh Hashanah is different than any other judgment that we experience.
As an example:
A mockery of justice
In 1994, O.J. Simpson was on trial for murder. The case drew great interest because, in a sense, the U.S. Judicial system was on trial. To anyone reading the news objectively, it was clear. The man killed his wife. The question was: could money, fame and bias sway the jury? The dream team of lawyers was called in to defend him. And, after months of high acrobatics, a decision had been reached.
The day that the verdict was read, O.J. Simpson sat in court gripping the bench. His entire future would now be proclaimed. Would he spend the rest of his life behind bars, or would he again be free?
The jury foreman rose to read the verdict. “We find the defendant…not guilty.”
Simpson’s face lit up. The joy, the relief, the happiness was palpable.
The verdict is read
That is judgment in this world. There is a period of fact finding, a period of deliberation, and then the decision is read for all to hear. At that point, the judge, the jury, the defendant and all in attendance know the ruling.
We live through a similar process on Rosh Hashanah. There is a period of fact finding, a period of deliberation and then a verdict is reached. But, we don’t hear the verdict. We don’t know what the decree is.
Were we given a year of life or not? Were we granted a year of health and well-being or not? The decree is set, but we don’t hear it. If we did, it would change the way we view life.
What we don’t see
The Steipler Goan, zt”l, was known as a man of extraordinary kedushah (holiness), and was accepted as one of the leaders of his generation. People would come to him from far and wide, for advice or a berachah. Often, they would hear words that bordered on prophetic.
One day, a man walked into the Steipler’s small apartment in Bnei Brak. It was midafternoon and there were already many people on line waiting. Typically, the Steipler would sit at his desk and listen to the person who had come to see him for a moment or two, his eyes largely remaining on the sefer in front of him. It was rare for the Steipler to look up. When this man walked into the apartment, not only did the Steipler look up, he stared directly at him, and in Yiddish began shouting at him, “Rasha, rasha (wicked one), get out! Get out, rasha!”
Everyone in the room was silent. All eyes turned to this man. He turned red. He turned white. Then he ran out of the apartment.
A few hours later, someone came in to see the Steipler and said to him in a low voice, “Rosh Yeshiva, I have to ask mechilah (forgiveness), but that man that the Steipler called a rasha, doesn’t seem to be such a rasha. When he left the Steipler’s apartment, he got into a car that had a number of other people inside. The car got into a major crash, and every other person in the car died. He was the only one that was unhurt. Obviously he isn’t such a rasha!”
The Steipler responded, “Don’t you understand? When he walked into the room, the Malach HaMaves walked in with him. I didn’t have a choice. One who embarrasses his friend, it’s as if he killed him. It was the only way I could save him.”
There used to be a time when men like the Steipler could see the Malach HaMaves. We can’t. And so it is difficult for us to relate to the issues that are decided on Rosh Hashanah.
Seeing the Din
But if you look about an average shul on Rosh Hashanah, you should recognize that many decrees are being put into place. There will many beautiful pronouncements: That man who lost his job and can barely pay his bills, will be granted a year of great financial well-being. That older single who has not yet found her bashert, will be granted that this year she will meet him. This couple that has not yet merited having children, will now be granted a child.
There will, however, also be many decrees that aren’t so pleasant. That man will lose his business. This family will go through great travails. That woman will be stricken with a dreaded illness. And if you daven in a large enough congregation, there will also be a few people who will get an X over their head. This will be their last year of life; they won’t make it to next Rosh Hashanah.
But we don’t see this. We walk out of shul on Rosh Hashanah, and we wish each person a good sweet year. But we don’t know. We don’t know what the decree is. We don’t know what the outcome will be.
But we understand that Hashem knows what is best. Hashem sits as the ultimate Judge, and Hashem metes out mankind’s fate.
And this is the second level of emunah. Knowing that Hashem determines mankind’s fate. We humans seem so powerful—we aren’t. We don’t control the outcome. Hashem is in charge.