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Elul- Reasons for Joy and Optimism as We Head to Court

There is a humorous story told of a criminal defense lawyer who once represented a certain criminal who was charged with murder and whose guilt was quite apparent. The attorney made a valiant effort to defend his client, but he realized that neither the judge nor the jury found his arguments convincing. Finally, before the jury left the courtroom to deliberate and reach a verdict, the judge invited the lawyer to make a closing statement.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," the lawyer confidently announced, "I know you think that my client committed the murder. But I have news for you – the real killer is about to enter the courtroom." Immediately, all twelve members of the jury, and the judge, turned their heads to the door, curiously waiting to see who would enter the room.

After about a minute of tense silence, during which time nobody entered the room, the lawyer again spoke. "Ladies and gentlemen, what I said is not true. The real killer will not be coming into the courtroom today. But I would like to point out that all of you, and even the judge, turned to the door expecting to see the real killer. Apparently, none of you are truly convinced that my client is guilty. You still have reasonable doubt about his guilt, and this is enough of a reason for an acquittal. Thank you."

The court hearing was adjourned, and the jury went to its room to deliberate. They later returned to the courtroom and announced that they found the defendant guilty as charged.

The lawyer was stunned. "What happened?" he bellowed. "I gave a very convincing argument to prove that you are uncertain."

"My dear sir," the lead juror replied, "it is true that the jury and the judge looked curiously at the door to see who would come in. But there was one person in the courtroom who did not look at the door – your client. He is certain that he is guilty, and so we are certain, too."

This story conveys a vitally important message for us as we prepare for our "trial" on Rosh Hashanah. Namely, we need to be convinced of our "innocence," that we are worthy of a favorable judgment.

This does not mean that we should delude ourselves into thinking that we are perfectly righteous and have done nothing wrong over the past year. Rather, it means that we need to understand something about the Judge. G-d is not like anything we associate with human judges presiding over cases in the courtroom. Human judges reach their decisions with cold objectivity. G-d, however, is fully on our side. Of course we’ve done many things wrong over the course of the year that give us cause for concern. But this does not matter.

When somebody stands trial for a crime he committed, the judge will not advise him how to get an acquittal. When it comes to our upcoming "trial," however, this is precisely what the Judge does. He commands us to sound the Shofar, which, as our Sages teach, moves G-d from His "Throne of Judgment" to His "Throne of Compassion." He has told us exactly what we need to do to arouse His compassion. Moreover, He commanded us not to work on the day of our trial, on Rosh Hashanah, so we spend the day in somber reflection and repentance, through which we earn atonement. And, perhaps even more importantly, He has given us a full month to prepare ourselves through Selihot and Teshuba. G-d is not objective. He wants us to earn a favorable judgment, and so He told us exactly what we need to do to earn it.

Imagine a person commits a crime, is arrested, and is then brought into the courtroom. Gripped with terror, he walks into the room, certain that his fate is sealed. But then he looks up and sees that his father, who loves and adores him, is the judge. The defendant might still feel uneasy about having to confess his crime to his father, but he is not afraid. He knows that his father will do everything possible to help him earn an acquittal.

The Judge on Rosh Hashanah is our loving Father. We need to somberly confess and express remorse for our mistakes, but we also have plenty of reason to feel optimistic and to rejoice knowing that this is our Judge.

Halacha requires us to groom ourselves before Rosh Hashanah, and to wear our finest clothing and eat festive meals on this holiday. Yes, the prospect of standing trial before G-d’s Tribunal is frightening, but we are to rejoice and celebrate the fact that He is helping us and doing everything He can to ensure that we earn a favorable judgment. All we need to do is follow His instructions during the weeks before Rosh Hashanah and during the holiday, and we can then trust that our loving Father will give us a favorable judgment.


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Parashat Shelah: Shabbat – Our Collective Obligation
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