Elul/Selihot: How to Apply for the “Alafim Program”
The crux of the Selihot prayer, which we recite throughout the month of Elul, is the "Yag Middot" – the "thirteen attributes" of divine mercy. As we beg to Hashem for forgiveness in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, we appeal to these attributes, which reflect G-d’s kindness and compassion, and His willingness to forgive us for our wrongdoing.
One of these attributes is "Noser Hesed La’alafim" – literally, "keeps kindness for thousands." This phrase has been explained to refer to the Talmud’s comment )Shabbat 32a) that when a person is judged, even if 999 angels prosecute against him, and a single angel advocates on his behalf, he is saved from a harsh sentence because of that one angel. The Gemara then cites Rabbi Elazar Ben Rabbi Yossi as adding that even if 999/1000th of that one angel is inclined to prosecute against the individual being judged, and just one-thousandth of that angel seeks to defend him, the person is saved. It emerges, then, that even if a person has only one-thousandth of one one-thousandth to his credit, he can earn a favorable judgment. It has been suggested that this is the meaning of "Noser Hesed La’alafim." G-d is so merciful that He extends kindness and grace to "Alafim" – those who have only one-thousandth of one thousand angels advocating on his behalf.
As much as we are required to introspect and repent during this period of the High Holidays, identifying our faults and flaws and working to correct them, we also need to give ourselves some credit. There is hardly any person who does not have at least "one-thousandth of one one-thousandth" of goodness on his record. We all have much to fix, but we all also have much to be proud of. And G-d, in His infinite compassion, is prepared to focus His attention on that "one-thousandth of one one-thousandth" and judge us favorably.
The question then becomes, how do we sign up for the "Alafim Program"? How do we access this extraordinary resource, and earn a favorable judgment based on the merits and goodness which we have to our credit?
The answer is found in the Gemara’s comment later in Masechet Shabbat (127), that whoever judges his fellow favorably is himself judged favorably. If we give other people the benefit of the doubt and judge their actions in a favorable light, then G-d will, in turn, judge us in a favorable light.
This is the key to the "Alafim Program." We need to focus our attention on the "one-thousandth of one one-thousandth" of goodness found in other people. Rather than following our natural tendency to judge people harshly and highlight their negative qualities, we must do the opposite – focus our attention on all that is good about the people around us. If we do this, then G-d will, in turn, direct His attention, as it were, to the considerable amount of goodness which we have to our credit, and sentence us to a happy, healthy, prosperous new year.