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Sermon for Rosh Hashannah 5780 (9/29/2019): "Hashem, the True Judge"

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך–הָעולָם

“Blessed are thou, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, the true judge”.

In Judaism there is a prayer for everything. We say a blessing to acknowledge Hashem and express gratitude for whatever the act or situation is. It may come as no surprise that upon hearing bad news or experiencing a tragic event that there is also a prayer for that. How is it, then, that this blessing should be “the true judge” and what does that mean?

First of all, we understand as Jews that G-d is watching us always and interacting with us as we journey through our lives. G-d didn’t just create us, let us have free will, sit back, grab some popcorn and watch the Universe go around! As we affirm in our morning blessings, G-d provides us with our every need, girds our strength, firms our footsteps and gives strength to the weary.

Therefore, when a tragedy strikes, it’s all part of The Plan. G-d is there to help us through it all. He’s like a parent that watches us fall and helps us get back up and move forward to overcome that challenge and grow.

There seems, however, to be a contradiction. If G-d is the “True Judge”, why do we have earthly courts? G-d set in motion for us to develop systems of justice. We have the lowest court of three, the “Beit Din”, or “House of Justice”. In fact, this is why we have three people on the bema during Yom Kippur during the three chantings of “Kol Nidre”. We then have higher courts with more people until finally the 70-person Sanhedrin. They hear various cases, and various levels of cases of both criminal and civil cases in accordance with the Torah. From the laws laid out in the Torah, there are four tractates in the Talmud (Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, Bava Batra and Sanhedrin) that discuss how to adjudicate cases. At the base of all court hearings is whether or not the perpetrator has been first warned before committing the offense and whether two people saw that person commit the offense.

The Torah also discusses when a person may be clearly guilty but can’t be convicted because of some technicality, such as no one can verify that they were warned beforehand, or two witnesses aren’t available. The sages state that even if someone gets away with something, or even if someone is wrongly convicted, there will be Divine Justice either somewhere else in their lives or in the World to Come.

And this is really what’s at issue here: the fairness of it all. Why bother having an earthly court at all? Why not just let life happen and when something bad happens—something that we think is unfair, we’re good people, what did we do to deserve this—we can just shrug our shoulders and say, hey, it’s G-d’s will and that piece of Karma is done, one less thing and we move on.

Not that easy, is it?

There’s always the human emotions that go along with it. Whether it is just an annoyance like a flat tire, an extra expense we can’t handle, or people taking advantage of us with no recourse, there’s always the anxiety, anger and resentment that accompanies it.

G-d, the true Judge. Did G-d set this up to happen or did we in our limited cognition allow these things to happen? Who do we blame? For us acting in the material world, we will sometimes get involved in situations that we don’t think are fair. We may do what we think is best and yet there are people impeding us. We behave at work, stay late, go the extra mile, and someone else gets the promotion. We show compassion and friendship to people who then deceive and lie to us and take advantage of us.

This is when this blessing comes in to comfort us. Yes, to comfort us. Some may recognize this blessing as the first thing we say at a funeral. G-d is the true judge and makes sure everything happens—like the late rains and early rains—in its proper time.

G-d as the “true judge”, as the prayer and affirmation states, is constantly involved in our lives. He knows what we are doing, what we’ve done, what we’re going to do and what our intentions are in each and every situation. The point, then, is that we have to go through the motions and that is what helps us with our spiritual development. This is why G-d let the Israelites do what they did and Moses plead for their mercy.

The point is that as we enter a new year and ask Hashem to inscribe us in the book of life, we take stock of our own actions. We don’t act for any possible consequence; we act for the purity of the action. We commit mitzvot because that’s what G-d wants us to do.

They may not pay off right now, but we can be assured that Hashem, as the “true judge”, will take stock of actions and we will benefit at some time in some way.

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