Imagine you are on trial.
The fate of your existence hangs in the balance. And not just for your life, but for the destiny of the entire world.
Imagine the judgment is incredibly strict; it is exacting to the finest degree. There is no way to slip anything by. Everything you think, do and say is being carefully dissected and examined.
Those are some scary thoughts. It is also exactly what is happening on Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment. So every year, and in particular this year with such global unrest, we need to find a way to be successful in judgment.
Thankfully, the Talmud gives us the solution! It says that if we are forgiving and forgoing of the injustices others do to us, G-d will forgo our iniquities too. This is based on a mystical understanding of the verse in Psalms that reads, “G-d is your shadow on your right hand.”
The Zohar explains that just as our shadow mimics everything we do, so too G-d reflects to us the way we act. Those who show the world a smiling face are reflected a smiling countenance, and for those who are always complaining, the world is complaining back at them.
Similarly, when we forgo our claims against others because we don’t feel so important and self-righteous, G-d forgoes the negative things we have done.
Now this concept sounds sweet, but it doesn’t make much sense. Am I not supposed to stand up for truth and be uncompromising for what I know is right?
If Nazis are asserting their beliefs, shouldn’t I be unyielding and unforgiving?
For sure. In such cases, we must be uncompromising and stand up for what is true and right and see ourselves as bearers of the torch and keepers of the flame. The challenge is when our biases and personal beliefs begin to blur the line.
I hate Nazis because their creed and deed are to hate and destroy anyone different from them; that is evil. When I fight against that and all other doctrines of hate, I fulfill the verse in Psalms: “The ones who truly love G-d hate evil.”
The dangerous edge is that once I make myself the arbiter of truth, I might justify hating anyone who thinks differently than I do. This problem is especially pronounced when humanistic philosophies dictate versions of morality that change with the times.
The Nazis outlawed kosher ritual slaughtering because they thought it cruel. Disagreeing with them not only was illegal, but also was considered morally reprehensible. Either of these extremes is not where we should be going. And although we think that the disagreements in our lives are that black and white, they usually fall into a much grayer area.
In Talmudic times there were two famous schools of thought, Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel. These two groups disagreed fervently on many fundamental issues of life.
Yet they discussed, argued and communicated what they each thought. Their dialogue was real and intense. And since their search for truth was so genuine and free from personal biases, they deeply loved each other.
When we have an altercation with our friends, do we try to speak it out with them as is required by Jewish law, or are we so sure that we are right that nothing needs to be said? Do we justify maintaining discord and disharmony because we have been slighted and are therefore righteously indignant?
I would like to suggest that in most disagreements with friends and family we could let go a lot more than we do. We can be softer and come down off our high horse.
Certainly, we should change our patterns of interaction and protect ourselves, but the first step toward healing is not to stand on our rights but to learn to forgive and forgo. This is the recipe to be successful in judgment at this High Holiday season.
Today, we are living in a very divided world. It is impossible to imagine the different sides dropping their arms and rhetoric and hugging each other. It’s not going to happen.
However, if we drop our arms and rhetoric and make peace in our families, our social circles and our Jewish community, not only will we be judged favorably, but we also will create a ripple effect that will bring change and healing to the entire world.