2003Shabbat Shuva (Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur)
Moving from Justice to Mercy
Rabbinic tradition associates different Names of God with God's different attributes. The Divine Name EloHiYM is always associated with judgement. In the Torah, human judges are sometimes called EloHiYM. The ineffable Divine Name YHVH always refers to mercy. What happens when two Names of God are used in the same verse?
"EloHiYM ascends with Teruah (a cry of warning) YHVH with the sound of the Shofar." (Psalms 47:6)
Your Psalms Navigator
1. Why would the Psalmist change Names in the middle of the verse?
2. In what context might this verse be understood?
3. Why am I asking questions about Rosh Hashanah when we are already at Shabbat Shuva? No, I didn't screw up?
Midrash Leviticus Rabba 29:3
"On Rosh Hashanah the ELoHYM sits on His throne in judgement as it is written: EloHiYM ascends with Teruah (a cry of warning) but moves from His throne of judgement, to the throne of mercy. As it is written: "...YHVH with the sound of the shofar."
Your Midrash Navigator
1. Why does God have to move from justice to mercy, does this mean that God changes His mind?
2. Why does it take the sound of the shofar to do so?
3. What is being modeled for us?
The Hasidic master the Sefat Emet, understands this as a process which mirrors creation, as tradition teaches that the world was created on Rosh Hashanah, and is re-created anew every year at this time. God, he says, did not change His mind or alter His will, but He is teaching that this is the process by which the world was created. It was to demonstrate why absolute justice is not perfect justice, or ideal justice. Real justice, ultimately and paradoxically, has to be informed by mercy. Through the blowing of the shofar we are being engaged in the process of moving God from justice to mercy which is the reason this passage is so appropriate after Rosh Hashanah.
God now says to us: Just as I have moved from justice to mercy, you do the same in your lives. What I have done in one or two days, you now have ten days to do. That person with whom you haven't spoken in months or years, give her a call. These ten days of penitence are a period when God requires us to be the idealized version of ourselves. It is easier for us to make the first move because during this period it doesn't matter who was right or wrong-it only matters that it's a mitzvah and just as God is merciful i.e. giving you something you do not deserve in a world of absolute justice, you too, can grant the favor and begin the world anew.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Director, Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.