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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Breaking G-d’s Rules

By Rabbi Sender Haber

On Rosh Hashana we beg G-d to rise from His throne of Judgment and sit on His throne of Mercy.

What’s up with that?

Didn’t Hashem make rules? Didn’t he tell us what will happen if we don’t follow the rules? How do we have the Chutzpa to stand before G-d and ask for special treatment after He clearly stated and restated the rules?

At best we are asking for trouble.

I spent the last few hours of last year at the Enterprise car rental agency. You need a credit card to rent a car, and I had the good fortune to get in line behind an angry marine who was trying to rent a car without a credit card. (Most marines are nice guys, but this one was not). The Marine tried cash, debit cards, and ID tags, but the clerk just kept repeating the rule: You Need a Credit Card to Rent a Car.

As I stood and watched this exchange, the marine finally lost his patience. He took his entire wallet, closed it and threw it at the clerk.

“Take whatever you need”, he said, “Just give me a car”

Everyone in the store was aghast at the man’s behavior and the clerk refused to serve him.

A supervisor came out a few minutes later and calmed him down. She said that she could get him a car. She would need to check his credit record, his driving record, and his personal history. She began drilling the Marine: Who is you employer? (U.S Marine Corp) How many years have you been with the Corp? (Twenty five years) What is your rank? (Sergeant) Who can we call for a recommendation? Do you have any outstanding debts and to which banks? Do you have a criminal record?

The tough marine was embarrassed and humiliated. Only after a full interrogation and extra paperwork was he allowed to take a car.

At first I looked on condescendingly as I thought of the teaching of Ben Zoma: “Who is Strong? He who conquers his emotions.” Apparently, a man can rappel from helicopters into enemy fire and still be a wimp when it comes to conquering his own anger.

A few minutes later, it occurred to me that I might not be much better than this Marine. What is the difference between his behavior at Enterprise and our own behavior on Rosh Hashana? Don’t we ask Hashem to ignore the rules and make an exception for us? Don’t we just ‘throw everything we have’ at Hashem and demand that He make it right? Are we really looking to interrogated and judged like the Marine was judged? Why would Hashem bypass the rules that He Himself set up? How do we have the Chutzpa to ask?

Many great thinkers have asked this question and they all seem to agree on one basic answer: Mercy is not a way to bypass judgment; it is a form of judgment.

Hashem judges us as we judge others. If we are unwilling to bend our will and our desire for others, Hashem will (chas veshalom) act in kind and not veer at all from the rules that he has set forth.

On the other hand, if we are merciful when considering the actions of others, Hashem will be merciful when considering our actions as well.

Enterprise rent-a-car isn’t sophisticated enough to change their policies on a case by case basis. Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, is able to base His Judgment on each person’s individual approach to justice.

The last line of Avinu Malkeinu was composed by Rabi Akiva. The Jewish people were desperate for rain and Rabi Akiva asked Hashem to have mercy upon us. He was answered immediately with torrents of rain. The students wondered why Rabi Akiva had been answered so quickly while Rabi Eliezer’s many Tefillos had gone unanswered. A heavenly voice explained that Rabi Eliezer was a student of Shammai. He was always strict and unforgiving on the Torah’s behalf. Rabi Akiva was a student of Hillel and he was being judged in the way that he judged others.

If we are merciful in judging others; Hashem will be merciful when He judges us.

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