Sign In Forgot Password

Parshas HaAzinu - Hashem Hashem, The All Merciful One       12 Tishrei 5780

10/11/19 08:43:37


There is a standard tradition of asking for mechila – forgiveness - from one another before Yom Kippur. Typically, it is easier to ask forgiveness from someone who isn’t that close to you, such as an acquaintance or a person whom you are friendly but are not really close.. There are the other people who are very good friends and still others who are even closer, such as family. Throughout the year we are more likely to have run-ins and disagreements with people with whom we have close contact throughout the year. . Typically, shortly before Yom Kippur,, someone will approach you to ask for mechila/forgiveness. Immediately we respond, “Of course I forgive you.” Then, without missing a beat, ,we respond by asking forgiveness from from them. But I think there is one group of people who present difficulty with regard to this pleasant two-way forgiveness refrain. For this group, asking for mechila is only a one-way street. Let me explain. Children need to honor and respect their parents. They need to ask forgiveness; the parents do not have to ask forgiveness from a child. (A Rebbi may be in the same category as a parent).

As time and life goes by, not everyone is able to ask their parents forgiveness for a variety of reasons. One obvious reason is because the parent is no longer in this world physically. However, there are situations when a parent is here physically, but mentally the parent is in a different place. In my case my mother a”h is in the next world, and my father Y”BL, who is in this world but is not really aware of what’s going on due to his lack of sight and hearing, cannot respond. There’s no question that as a son I can be doing more for my father. I can call more often, visit a few more times a year, and overall be a better son. On Erev Yom Kippur, as I wished my father a Gut Yom Tov, I asked him forgiveness for anything that I may have done wrong to him or for anything I may not have done correctly for him. This tradition is something we do every year, but this year felt a little different. This past year has seen a decline in my father’s mental ability and diminishing recognition of the people around him. This is in addition to the fact that he is so far away. He is only able to hear a voice on Skype or telephone. Up until this year there was some type of reply, usually a ‘yes’ to the forgiveness from my father before Yom Kippur, but this year was different. There was no reaction after we spoke. No ‘yes’. This made me very nervous. Perhaps he does not forgive me for some of the issues I mentioned earlier, or perhaps there is something else completely different, something that I am unaware of. I keep thinking to myself, perhaps he heard me ask for mechila, and this time he is not ready to forgive me!

Two quick points came to mind, and I came to the realization that I should not be nervous after all. First, I know he doesn’t hear me, and I know his memory is compromised. I know this and I deal with this throughout the entire year. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I KNOW my father, and despite having gotten angry a few times in his life, he is an extremely forgiving person. There’s no reason for this beautiful characteristic to stop now. My father’s kindness always came through; despite becoming angry, his strong compassionate nature would shine through. Therefore, I felt confident that despite the silence after my request there is no concern that his merciful side would not take over the Din/judgment. This relationship of a parent to a child is uniquely powerful in the sense that the father always has compassion for his child - under any circumstances. We may see the mercy and kindness by a human parent, but does it exist with our Father in Heaven?

In this week’s Parshas HaAzinu the Torah states in Devarim 32:39: "ראו עתה כי אני אני הוא ואין אלוקים עמדי, אני אמית ואחיה מחצתי ואני ארפא ואין מידי מציל" - “But now see! It is I! I am the [only] One! There are no [other] gods with Me! I kill and give life! If I crushed, I will heal! But there is no protection from My power!” Rabbi Shimon Betzalel Neuman, in his sefer Peninim Yekarim, asks why the verse repeats the word ‘Ani’? He explains, based upon a Rashi in Parshas Vaera Shmos 6:2, whereby God spoke to Moshe and said to him, “I am YHVH (Hashem). Whenever God uses the name ‘Hashem’ with regard to a Mitzvah, it’s an expression that He guarantees, is believed that He will pay the reward for the fulfillment of the Mitzva. Likewise, whenever the name of God is used in reference to punishment for a sin, the word Hashem is also used. This is because He is believed to pay a price to the individual for sinning. But this terminology begs the question: Why, by dishing out a punishment, do we use the term Hashem - the YHVH which is used exclusively as an understanding of mercy and not judgment? The classic,general rule is that the name Elokim is reserved for judgment, while the name Hashem is used to describe mercy. Here, by serving a punishment, shouldn’t we use the term Elokim and not Hashem?

The answer is that even when God punishes, it is done with a sense of rachamim/mercy. This directly connects to the way a loving father at times needs to punish his child; it is done in the most merciful way possible. This is what is meant when we recite the verse in Pesukei D’Zimra Tehilim 135:14 that Dovid HaMelech took from Haazinu 32:36 "כי ידין ה' עמו": “For Adonay judges His people”. Even at a time when God is judging and meting out punishment, He does it by mixing in Rachamim/mercy and actually removes the Din/judgment, leaving mercy. The proof is nuanced in the words, “But now see it is I. It is I; this is a guarantee or security that I, Hashem the merciful God Who will pay the reward and warn of the punishment. It is I [Hashem the merciful God] who is believed to pay. It is I, Hashem, and I alone; Elokim is not with me even when teaching or recording the idea of punishment. It is only Hashem and not Elokim.

As Yom Kippur passes we now try to live our life knowing that Hashem forgave us and that the character of mercy overcame the character of justice. As we enter into this new season heralded by the Yom Tov of Sukkos, we can feel a sense of security and compassion that is represented in the symbolism of the Sukkah. As we will sit in the Sukkah next week, we affirm the notion that God judged us with Hashem and mercy and not Elokim with judgment. Sitting, dwelling in the Sukkah immediately after Yom Kippur is a testament to our belief that we have gained atonement through mercy and not through harsh judgment. Let us bask in the glory of Hashem and let His mercy shine upon us and continue to guide and lead us throughout the year.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780