From Judgement to Mercy; From Din to Rachamim

Nov 24, 2014

by: Rabbi Yitzchak Hirshfeld

The Ramban (Vayikra 23:24) calls Rosh Hashanah “Yom Hadin B’rachamim,” the Day of Judgment with Mercy, and Yom Kippur “Yom Harachamim B’din,” the Day of Mercy with Judgment. The Ten Days of Penitence apparently serve as a transition period.

What do these phrases mean? Where do they come from? Understanding this Ramban will illuminate two of the fascinating themes of this Yomim Noraim (“High Holy Day”) period. The first is the interplay between the two facets of G-d’s relationship to man: the Attribute of Din (Judgement) and the Attribute of Rachamim (Mercy). The second is the interplay of the functions of those two very distinct, yet complementary, days: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

This is puzzling. Adam was victorious?! Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, the earth was cursed, and their evil inclination became intimately intertwined within their personalities. Surely if we were to identify winners and losers, the serpent won and Adam and Eve lost.

The answer may be, that being evicted from Gan Eden was a great act of mercy on G-d’s part. In the perfect world of Eden, man, in order to survive, must be perfect. In Eden, Din cannot be tempered with Rachamim. In our far from perfect world, in our exile from Eden, human imperfection may be tolerated. Perfection may be approached as a goal, but its absence will never surprise us.

All this happened on that first Rosh Hashanah. G-d’s judgment was tempered with His mercy. Rosh Hashanah is “Yom Hadin B’rachamim.”

The first Yom Kippur was a different response to a different sin-the sin of the Golden Calf. At the Giving of the Torah, Israel had been elevated to spiritual heights reminiscent of Adam’s situation in Gan Eden. And their fall was even more spectacular than Adam’s. There were no extenuating circumstances; there was no excuse for failure-the degree of Mercy extant since Creation would not suffice to save them.

It was just then that G-d said (see Rashi to Shemot 33:19), the time has come for Me to reveal further levels of my Attribute of Mercy-My Mercy has no end, no limits, to those who call for my mercy, in repentance and subservience. The prayers of those who recite and implement my Thirteen Attributes of Mercy will never remain unanswered.

All this happened as the Jewish People were approaching their first Yom Kippur. To a great extent “Din” was superseded by “Rachamim”: Yom Kippur, the Day of Mercy with Judgment.

This transition from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, from the predominance of Din to the supremacy of Rachamim is taking place now, during the ten days of Teshuvah. Teshuvah isn’t only about fixing ourselves-it is also about fixing a relationship.

When we soften our hearts, the whole world becomes a softer place. The harsh spotlight of Din becomes the soft glow of Hashem’s loving presence. We come home to bask in the security of a relationship of love.

And that’s what Sukkot is all about.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah.

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