THE KEY TO CLEMENCY
By Rabbi Moshe Peretz Gilden
We are now in the midst of the most awesome and anxious time of the year,
the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when our divine judgment hangs
in the balance. As adroitly stated in the High Holiday liturgy, G-d
determines who is to live and who is not, who is to prosper and who will be
impoverished. It is a period when we reflect upon and contemplate our
deeds, recharting paths taken in error and bolstering our strengths. We are
in the midst of the Ten Days of Repentance.
The Talmud (Tractate Shabbos 133b) expounds on the verse in The Song at the
Sea, "This is my G-d and I will glorify Him" (Shemos/Exodus 15:2) that
glorification refers to emulating the "character traits" of G-d: just as G-d
is compassionate and merciful so, too, should you be compassionate and
merciful. In turn, G-d treats us in a fashion commensurate with our
treatment of our fellow human beings. If we are forgiving then G-d
overlooks our blunders. If we judge people favorably then G-d gives us a
second chance. This concept is emphasized in another Talmudic selection in
Tractate Shabbos (127b). The Talmud states that one who gives his friend
the benefit of the doubt is given the benefit of the doubt when he is judged
by G-d. This is perplexing! The all knowing G-d cannot have any doubts, so
how can he give us "the benefit of the doubt"?
Rabbi Yissocher Frand, of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, in
a lecture about the mitzvah of judging our fellow Jew favorably and giving
the benefit of the doubt, explains this as an issue of "partial credit".
When a student takes a written exam, a teacher who is an easy grader looks
to see if there are parts of a wrong answer which are correct and gives
partial credit on that basis; a strict grader gives no credit if the answer
is not completely correct. This is how G-d's "benefit of the doubt" is
manifest. When we perform the mitzvos, there are many mitzvos that we do
not fulfill as completely as we wish. We may rush through our prayers, not
giving them our full concentration and contemplation. Are all of our acts of
kindness for wholly selfless reasons? G-d is grading our performance over
the past year...we can dictate how we are "marked". If we are generous in
our treatment and judgment of others, G-d will give us partial credit; if we
are strict in our judgment of others, we may be shocked to find out that
many of our mitzvos are graded as "no credit".
And there are times that the impact of the generosity of spirit is felt
immediately. During the 1967 Six Day War, much of Jerusalem served as a
battleground. An air-raid siren went off in the Bais Yisrael neighborhood
and the students of the Mir Yeshiva, which was located a short two blocks
from the green line with Jordan, scuttled down to the basement bomb shelter
along with many other residents of the neighborhood. The Mir Yeshiva was the
only Talmudical academy of pre-World War II Europe to survive intact,
traveling from Lithuania to Japan, continuing after the War across the
Pacific Ocean to the United States, across the United States to New York,
and eventually across the Atlantic to Jerusalem. Now, the Yeshiva was once
again threatened. The atmosphere was intense. The low murmur of prayer
provided the background for occasional cries of panicked inhabitants and
muffled explosions of nearby artillery. Amidst the chaos, a woman, abandoned
by her husband twenty years earlier without the benefit of receiving her
divorce, stood up, looked heavenward and proclaimed, "Dear G-d, I
wholeheartedly forgive my husband; please forgive your nation!"
At that moment, shock waves permeated the building. Screams were heard as
people were thrown about. The building took a direct hit from a large
mortar shell...but it did not detonate. It left a gaping hole in the wall
of the edifice, but the structure remained solid. Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz,
Dean of the Seminary, who led them from the ashes of Europe to the glory of
Jerusalem, declared, "This institution was not saved in the merit of our
countless hours of Torah study; it was not saved in the merit of our sincere
prayers. We were saved because of the strength of character of this elderly
woman, who after 20 years of anguish and grief found the fortitude for her
selfless act of forgiveness." According to Rabbi Shmulevitz, a man who had
a keen understanding of the inherent value of every mitzvah, she was the
heroine who saved their lives.
As we approach Yom Kippur we contemplate our past year and seek divine
clemency. We have the power to write our own pardon. What have our friends
and colleagues done to us? How were we wronged by our relatives? We must
find the strength to forgive, to forget, to look away. It is our belief
that G-d will, in kind, give us a new chance and bless us with a year of
happiness, success and peace.
Have good Shabbos, and let us all be sealed for a year rich with G-d's
blessings of life, sustenance and peace.
G'mar Chasima Tova.
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Pinchas Avruch and Project Genesis, Inc.
Kol HaKollel is a publication of the Milwaukee Kollel Center for Jewish
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