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Thought for the Day: Mercy Does Not Contradict Strict Judgement

It is not uncommon (I've done it myself, actually) to begin a drash this time of year with the question of why should we be judged before we ask for atonement.  Wouldn't it make more sense, begins the darshan, to gain atonement first and then go to court with a plea bargain in hand?  Various answers are offered; and many beautiful d'rashes have been formulated.  I would like to contend, however, that the question is built on a misunderstanding of what is happening this time of year.  I came to this realization after a lovely day spent with my wife.  (No, smarty, it was not one of those times I needed to ask for forgiveness from her.)

We started our day together learning from M'silas Yesharim after breakfast.  The M'silas Yesharim notes that the attribute of mercy does not contradict the attribute of strict justice.  I sort of got what he was saying, but not the depth of it; it still seems like mercy lets you get way with stuff that justice would say, "Not so fast there, buddy!"

We went out to lunch and came out to find a ticket on the windshield!  Aargh, we had been so careful about the parking meter!  I pulled of the ticket and found that we were being fined ($60, by the way) for not having a front license plate.  Huh?  So I looked; sure enough, no front license plate.  (Quick; without looking... is there a front license plate on your bumper?)  Over the next week we ordered a new plate and had it securely fastened to the front bumper.  I sent in the ticket with the receipt showing the license had been ordered and attached and hoped they would let me off this time with just a warning.  Instead I got the judgement back a week or so later telling me that the no fine was owed.  Why?  Because the facts of the accusation were wrong; we did, in fact, have a front license plate.  They didn't want to punish us for not having a front license plate; they just wanted us to have a front license plate.  The threat of a fine got us moving in a way that just having the regulation on the books did not.

What we experience as threats of punishment from HaShem is really just a matter of getting our attention.  Getting us to look at what we are doing and where we have deficiencies.  As Rosh HaShana approaches, we begin to look at ourselves more critically.  We see things missing that we hadn't noticed.  Maybe we should call Rosh HaShana, the Day of Assessment or Day of Evaluation.  On Yom Kippur we get to report on what we are doing to address the deficiencies.  If we did have the threat of punishment, who know when we would address our deficiencies.  These deficiencies are not just a missing license plate, there are problems with critical organs needed for our true, eternal existence.  It would be nothing short of cruel to leave us with those deficiencies!

Mercy gives us the time to evaluate and correct.  HaShem loves us and wants us to perfect itself.  Not only does mercy not contradict justice, it actually enables true justice.


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