Day of Mercy
last week’s Dvar Torah we explained that Rosh Hashanah relates to G-d through
the attribute of strict justice. Yom Kippur, however, relates to G-d in a
different way. Yom Kippur relates through the attribute of mercy.
does not seem to be so. On Rosh Hashanah, we act as we do on most Jewish
holidays. We dress up and we eat festive meals. Yom Kippur is the complete
opposite. On Yom Kippur, we do not wear regular shoes, eat or drink, wash
ourselves, or engage in marital relations.
We also spend the entire day in prayer. Would it not make more sense to
assume that Yom Kippur is the day of strict justice while Rosh Hashanah is the
day of mercy?
is merciful about Yom Kippur?
order for us to understand this, we must first understand how the attributes of
mercy and justice relate to each other, to us, and how we relate with them to
Maharal (Rabbi Yehuda Loewy, 16th century Czechoslovakian Rabbi) writes in his
classic work “Nesivos Olam” that the attribute of G-d’s justice is
actually a manifestation of His love. Someone who loves something wants to give
to it. And because of this love, he cares how this thing turns out. If this
thing does not turn out right a certain amount of tweaking is required. This is
not out of anger at the object of his love, but is rather because of the love that he feels for it. G-d judges us because He
loves us and wants what is best for us.
The concept of doing teshuva —
returning to G-d — is an extremely powerful concept. “In the place where a
Jew who returns from his sinful ways stands, even a completely righteous Jew
does not stand” (Brochos 34b). This shows the value that G-d has for one who
returns to Him.
On Yom Kippur, the historic day of
doing teshuva (for this was the day when Moses descended from the mountain with
the second set of tablets, a descent that proved that G-d had forgiven the
Jewish people for their sin with the golden calf), we refrain from many bodily
pleasures, but not because we are judging or punishing ourselves because of our
shortcomings. We leave these physical pleasures behind because G-d has such an
intense love for His people that on this day when we approach Him in an attempt
to right our wrongs, we become so close to Him that we leave our physicality
behind and we cling to Him. This is not something that is ideal for us the
entire year, as normally we strive to integrate the physical and the spiritual.
But on this one special day we leave the physical behind and cling to G-d.
we take such an approach, we are able to leave the physical world behind.
This is why Yom Kippur is considered a day of mercy.
Nachmanodies writes that Rosh Hashanah is a day of merciful judgment, while Yom Kippur is a day of strict mercy. Both mercy and judgment are methods used by G-d to show His love for us.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.