Day of Judgment?
Rabbi Ruben Gober
Each Jewish Yom Tov (holiday) has its own ‘Tefilas Musaf’ (added prayer) in which the unique theme of that holiday is expressed. For example, on Pesach the tefila mentions that it is the time of our redemption and on Shavuos it mentions that it is the time that we received the Torah. However, when we look at the Musaf of Rosh Hashana we notice that the essential theme of the day is mysteriously lacking. Everyone knows that the basic theme of this holiday is Yom HaDin—the Day of Judgment. The Talmud in Rosh Hashana 16a says that on this day everyone in the world passes before G-d to be judged. Yet, when we search the Musaf, we find that there is no mention of this theme at all. The only reference that we find to the Day of Judgment is in the middle bracha (blessing), that of Zichronos (remembrance) where we speak of G-d remembering all creatures on this day and deciding their fate. However, we are still left to wonder why Chazal (our sages) only inserted this in the greater theme of Zichronos, when we focus on ideas about G-d, rather than constructing a blessing that focuses on our being judged.
Even more curious is how Chazal didn’t even construct a bracha that has at its essence a request of G-d to pass a favorable ‘verdict’. When we think of being judged, we naturally think of going before a judge to plead our case or at least asking for mercy in the outcome. Our tefilos contain no such request. With these observations we are left with some strong questions: Why would Chazal leave out the essential theme of Judgment from the tefila? Why would they not construct a blessing in which we can express our request for a favorable verdict?
One may respond simply that there are specific requests that we make with regards to the judgment. There are four extra insertions that we add in to our tefilos on Rosh Hashana and on the following days until Yom Kippur; these additions contain requests, such as “write us in the book of life” and the like. But upon closer examination, we see that this just raises more questions. Firstly, why are our requests for life and a good year limited to additions and not an actual bracha? Shouldn’t there be a specific bracha formulated for this purpose? Furthermore, the Tur, in Orach Chaim Siman 582, says that these additions were allowed by our sages but only with difficulty. This seems extremely problematic—if the additions are appropriate then why were they only allowed with difficulty? If they’re not appropriate, then they shouldn’t be allowed at all!
Apparently, when they constructed the tefila, Chazal did not want to emphasize the idea that we are being judged. What did they want us to focus on? Let us examine the basic themes they established for the Musaf prayer of Rosh Hashana. There are three brachos unique to this day (what follows is an extremely brief summary of the blessings for reference; a deeper understanding of each one demands analysis beyond the scope of this article). The first one is ‘Malchios’, kingship, in which we speak about G-d as King of the universe and how in the future all of mankind will recognize this idea. ‘Zichronos’, remembrance, is the second bracha; the basic concept here is that G-d is an Omniscient Being who on this day decides the fate of all beings for the upcoming year (again, notice the lack of the term ‘din’, judgment, in the bracha). The third bracha is ‘Shofaros’ which expresses ideas behind the commandment to blow a ram’s horn on this day; here the basic idea is the distance between man and G-d, as it says at the end “and none is similar to You.” All these berachos express ideas about G-d, without any focus on man or man’s needs. Even from our cursory examination we see that on the Day of Judgment, Chazal felt that it is inappropriate for us to focus on ourselves, despite the fact that we are being judged. Just the opposite—man must focus on that which is beyond himself and the physical world. Chazal constructed the Tefila in such a way that one must draw his attention to philosophical ideas about God. Of course the question we need to ask is why.
Clearly, Chazal are teaching us that Judaism has a different view of ‘Judgment Day’. The Torah’s concept of Yom HaDin isn’t how most people look at judgment, like a court case for every individual where we sit in front of the judge and argue our case. It’s true that we are judged, but in Torah the din, the verdict, isn’t based on a simplistic notion of whether we are ‘good people’ or ‘bad people’, innocent or guilty. Of course it is true, as many statements of Chazal point out, that there is a verdict passed based on whether we are righteous or evil individuals. However, this really depends on one concept—the state of the soul. Man’s level isn’t a simple question of his good deeds or bad deeds; it has to do with his perfection and how he has attached himself to the truth. God, of course, is the Ultimate Truth and Existence—He is the Prime Mover of the Universe, upon which all other existences are dependent. For our souls to attain any level of existence we must exercise our ‘bechira chofshis’, our free choice, to use our G-d given wisdom in pursuit of truth and G-d; only in this way can we attain true metaphysical existence for our soul.
It is based on this concept that we are judged; come Yom HaDin, man really has no right to come before G-d and ‘plead his case’. Such a notion is against Torah—G-d knows what level man is on and all that he has encountered in this world. This isn’t a court case where man tries to convince the judge of his innocence—such an idea is absurd with reference to G-d. Our notion of Din is totally different—its based on a philosophical, metaphysical foundation of Judaism, that of the state of man’s soul. In Torah, the notion of ‘Judgment’ means that man must reflect on where he stands with regards to reality for ultimately that is how he is judged; for us, it is a chance to reflect on the true ideas behind the physical universe and give our souls real existence. It is only in this way that we may warrant a favorable verdict.
With this understanding of Judgment, we can see why our tefilos don’t mention Yom HaDin and don’t have specific requests that pertain to the judgment. Chazal didn’t want man to be caught up in his own personal judgment; there’s no point in it since it won’t accomplish anything. The judgment is based on G-d’s knowledge of man and the level of his soul. For man to win a favorable verdict, there is only one thing he needs to do—to reflect on the ideas about real existence, and there is no Real Existence other than G-d.
We may now explain why the Tur writes that the additions in Tefila that contain requests were only allowed with difficulty. Clearly, Chazal didn’t want man to focus on his own physical needs on this day and it is for this reason that there is no specific bracha that talks about this. The essential goal is for man to focus on what is true and real, and attach himself to those ideas. However, Judaism doesn’t deny human nature, and it is only natural that if man is being judged then he be concerned about himself. Man by his very nature is egoistic and must think about himself and his physical needs. Recognizing this, Chazal made a concession to human nature and allowed for him to ask for a good verdict. However, this was only a concession and Chazal ensured that this idea be clear by only allowing these requests to be expressed as additions in pre-existing brachos. When we look closely at the specific berachos in which the additions are inserted, the first two and last two of the tefila, we notice that these are berachos that focus on G-d and Divine Providence and not man’s own needs. It is clear that on this day, the Day of Judgment, our sages wanted to guide us in gaining “real life”, focusing on ideas about G-d and giving existence to our souls.