Rabbi Leonard Cohen: Judgement and compassion

By Rabbi Leonard Cohen

Rabbi Leonard Cohen

(AJNews) – Judgement.  It is a powerful word, a fearsome word.  The Hebrew word “Din” represents a particular aspect of Hashem as Shofet, the one who judges.  We believe that Hashem is the one true judge whose words, actions and judgements epitomize truth & justice.

And yet.  It is hard to reconcile this harsh notion of an impartial, penetrating justice with the contrasting aspect of Rachamim – compassion.  The Torah states that a judge is not allowed to show favour or accept inducements, regardless of the wealth, power or vulnerability of the party in question.  Yet compassion seems to be the opposite – seeking to find the goodness and favour that will allow us to view and treat the other most favourably.

During the Yamim Nora’im, we walk a tightrope, the fine line between these two extremes of justice and compassion.  We trust in the merits of our ancestors, and the eternal covenant of our people with Hashem, to serve as assurance for our ability be written in the Book of Life.  And thus we speak of the sweetness of the year, and we celebrate the holiday joyfully with gatherings and feasts.

Behind the celebration and the assurance, is the presence of Hashem’s judgement.  The details of our lives are magnified and examined in a Heavenly Beit Din.  And we are challenged to do cheshbon nefesh – an accounting for our souls, our actions and choices – under the strong spotlight of Hashem’s omniscience.

Such exposure can leave us feeling vulnerable.  One of the reasons it is deeply important to gather on Yom Kippur is to find accompaniment, communal support and interdependence in contending with some of our most difficult thoughts and emotions.  The High Holidays are a time when we come face-to-face with the magnitude of Hashem, and face-to-face with our limitations in this His world.

One advantage of a close-knit congregation or community is that it enables people to get to know one another well and share in each other’s lives.  And in such a community, people come to appreciate the wonderful things about each other – and also, to recognize the deep challenges that affect our friends, loved ones, and ourselves.

When we acknowledge these challenges, it makes us more human.  We draw strength from one another knowing that there is a universality to the awareness of our limitations.  When we sit together with what matters most in our lives, we elicit Hashem’s compassion and one another’s as well.  That is what makes true community.

As a community, Kehilat Shalom (like all congregations in Calgary) strives to make sure that everyone has a place to celebrate Rosh Hashana and observe Yom Kippur.  I wish to make explicitly clear that there are no financial restrictions to anyone wishing to attend services.

This High Holiday season, I encourage every one of us to know that we are not alone – we are strengthened through the merit of those who came before us, and by our fellow Jews who pray, live and celebrate alongside us.

Shana Tova U’Metuka!  May your coming year be a happy and healthy one for you and all your loved ones.

Rabbi Leonard Cohen is the rabbi of Kehilat Shalom Calgary, holding High Holidays services and Shabbat services year-round at the Calgary JCC.

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