Chesed and emes aren’t opposites — they go hand in hand
“Our Father, Our King, write us in the Book of Merits.”(Tefillos Rosh Hashanah)
Rav Pam discusses the pasuk in Devarim (13:18): “And He will give you rachamim and be compassionate with you.”
The Gemara (Shabbos 151b) says that if you have rachmanus on other people, you will merit mercy from Above. Yet it seems the pasuk is talking only about Hashem giving you rachamim, not about you having mercy on others. From where in this pasuk does the Gemara deduce the concept of having mercy on others?
Suppose it’s decreed on a person that he receive harsh punishment. In order to save him, Hashem will give him an opportunity to have mercy on someone else, perhaps sending a poor person to him or having him find a lost object. Once that person has done the chesed for someone else, he can now merit mercy himself (Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Shiurim on Chumash).
Growing up, my family spent every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in Ner Yisrael. The experience evoked awe — hearing so many voices raised in Amen, responding to the powerful call of the shaliach tzibbur, Rav Sheftel Neuberger shlita. The words of the tefillos were branded in my mind with every nuance and niggun.
Then I got married, moved halfway across the globe, and left the world of shul behind. Instead I grabbed a quick Shemoneh Esreh between feedings, a perek of Tehillim after bedtimes.
Among the 13 Middos of Hashem are chesed and emes. But the Gemara notes that those two middos appear to be the antithesis of each other. Emes means that Hashem gives you exactly what you deserve, and chesed means that even if you don’t deserve it, Hashem can do kindness with you. It seems as though one receives either/or.
Hashem judges us with emes. However, if an individual isn’t worthy, Hashem switches to chesed — by giving him the opportunity to have mercy on someone else. Once he has done that, he merits din. So chesed and emes aren’t opposites — they go hand in hand.
As my girls grew older I asked our rav if I could take turns with them, go back to shul while they watched the younger ones. But our rav responded that im yirtzeh Hashem one day my girls too will have families, so now is the time for them to utilize the opportunity of tefillah b’tzibbur.
I accepted that and firmly told myself that I was doing ratzon Hashem, nurturing His neshamos while occasionally managing an unbroken Shemoneh Esreh. And if I caught myself wistfully humming a tune from the tefillos of my youth, it just served as a reminder of how much I still yearned for the day when I could fill that aspect of avodah as well.
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein once asked his father-in-law, Rav Elyashiv, to explain what the Sefer HaZechuyos, the Book of Merits, is. We understand what it means to be written in the Book of Life or of Parnassah — these are tangible things. But merits?
Rav Elyashiv answered that being inscribed in the Sefer HaZechuyos means that in the coming year, Hashem will give you opportunities to gain the merits that enable you to withstand judgment.
So the next time a poor person knocks on your door, remember you’re not being merciful for his sake — but for your own.
Last year, my married daughter asked to come for Rosh Hashanah. “If you’d like, Ma,” she offered, “We can take turns watching the kids and going to shul.”
I don’t think she realized just how I’d leap at her idea. To stand and hear the ayayay at the beginning of Maariv? To bow with the entire kehillah for Aleinu? To hear shofar without sticky hands poking at my machzor…? If these were the benefits of getting over-the-hill, I was on the fast track.
Erev Rosh Hashanah I prepared a “shul bag” with my machzor and tissues (and yeah, reading glasses). But it wasn’t meant to be used. By the time we bentshed licht, my daughter wasn’t feeling well. A few hours later, she had a high fever and the chills. I spent Rosh Hashanah taking care of her and her baby, besides my own crew of juniors.
Obviously, despite thinking I could join the forces in shul, Hashem instead felt that my personal promotion was to merit this mission, logging in more time maintaining homeland security.
Man plans… but I’m grateful I’m in greater Hands.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 710)
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