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Rosh Hashanah Preparation

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

With just over a month to Rosh Hashanah we begin to focus on the Day of Judgment. In the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah we say that repentance, prayer and charity remove the harshness of the decree. We are being advised to involve ourselves in these three activities to mitigate harsh judgment. In our weekly Torah reading in Parshat Re’eh we find the commandments of giving charity, so our focus will be on this aspect of our preparation for Rosh Hashanah. Why does giving charity mitigate harsh judgments?

Rabbi Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa explains that a poor person is experiencing a level of God’s attribute of judgment (often for reasons beyond our understanding) and therefore experiences a withholding of blessing. The wealthier person on the other hand has experienced God’s attribute of compassion (also often for reasons beyond our understanding) and has therefore received merciful blessing. Through giving to the poor, the giver essentially mitigates the harsh attribute of justice effective on the poor person by an act of compassion (using the merciful blessings they received from God.) In this way giving charity is in fact the attribute of compassion overcoming the attribute of judgment.

When God sees us giving from our resources with compassion and easing the burden of others experiencing judgment and constriction, God in turn showers compassion upon us and mitigates our judgments. This is why charity has the power to mitigate harsh judgments. Based on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov we can understand the process differently. The mitzvah of charity requires that we overcome our own judgments and tendency to withhold our hard-earned resources and give to others. This internal work requires us to use our internal attribute of compassion to overcome our internal attribute of judgment. When we accomplish this God uses his attribute of compassion to overcome His judgments.

May we merit to give and emulate God’s ways and in so doing merit the great blessings God promises in Parshat Re’eh “You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; for because of this thing the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your work and in all your endeavors.” (Deuteronomy 15: 10)