Judge or Lawyer

Anyone who has ever davened in a yeshiva on the Yomim Noraim cannot forget the power of the piyut of L’Keil Orech Din that we say before Kedusha.

“Levochein levavos b’yom din, l’goleh amukos badin… He Who examines hearts on the day of judgment, the One Who reveals the deepest innermost feelings [of the heart] in judgment…”

I hate to say this, but when I even think of those words and the way they are said – the intensity, the feeling, the dread – I get nervous. I feel a pit in my stomach.

If Hashem starts looking into my heart and really grabbling, what is He going to find there? If Hashem begins to reveal the innermost thoughts, what will He find there?

Despite the fact that later in the piyut there are stanzas about Hashem’s kindness and pity on us on the day of judgment, the atmosphere in yeshiva or shul and the decibel level are such that I am sure I am not the only one whose anxiety level rises exponentially with each stanza of this piyut.

Perhaps, however, we have a mistaken understanding of how Hashem is interacting with us on Rosh Hashanah. Many of us have a deeply ingrained feeling that Hashem is only the Judge on Rosh Hashanah. As we all know, a judge must examine evidence and dispassionately render a ruling based on the evidence. A judge is not supposed to become emotionally involved. He is supposed to examine the case based on its facts.

Of course, according to this understanding, we enter Rosh Hashanah with tremendous anxiety. Not just eimas hadin, but overwrought anxiety that can sometimes bring a tremendous negativity toward the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah, which, Chazal teach us, we must celebrate as a Yom Tov, eating seudos and dressing in our best clothing because we are betuchim badin, trusting that Hashem will judge us favorably.

So, what is He? A dispassionate judge, who is only focused on the “facts,” or someone we can trust to judge us favorably?

Then it hit me. Let’s look at the name of the piyut, “L’Keil Orech Din.” What is an orech din? An orech din is a lawyer, a person who prepares the client’s case in the best, most positive light.

So, what is Hashem on Rosh Hashanah? The judge? Or our lawyer?

The Difference Between Night and Day

What is the difference between the two? It is tremendous. The lawyer is on my side, working on my behalf, whereas the judge is not.

What is the difference between a person preparing for a court case as if he is standing before the judge or before the lawyer? The difference is night and day. You see, when you stand in front of the judge, it is your obligation to convince him that you are innocent. When you are with your lawyer, you don’t have to convince him; he is on your side. What do you have to do? You have to provide information that will help him plead in your defense. The lawyer is working for you. Your lawyer is the person with whom you hold very private conversations. Your lawyer is the one with whom you share every mitigating factor that you can possibly think of. You help him present a case that will shed the best possible light on you and do the best job he can to show that you are really a good person, that whatever negative thing you might have done was not done maliciously, and that you have already created safeguards to ensure that if anything did happen, it won’t happen again.

Indeed, if you are convinced that Hashem is the dispassionate shofet, the judge who will just look at the facts, then, yes, this piyut can lead to tremendous anxiety and panic. If Hashem will really be bochein levavos and goleh amukos, examining our hearts and revealing our innermost thoughts and desires as a judge, then there is much to be anxious about.

But if Hashem is my lawyer, L’Keil Orech Din, He is not trying to chap me. On the contrary, He is trying to help me. He wants to be my lawyer. He wants me to try to come up with mitigating factors and a plan for the future that will ensure that I will not return to my wayward ways. That is a totally different story.

Preparing Before Your Lawyer

There certainly is a court case transpiring on Rosh Hashanah. It is a court case that must be taken seriously. On the other hand, we must also know: Who is our lawyer? Our Father in Heaven. He is on our team. He is with us, and even as we are nervous and anxious, He is calming us, saying, “I will help you make your case. All you have to do is collaborate with Me.”

Who is the judge, the mishpat l’Elokei Yaakov? Hashem, our Father, the father of Yaakov. Hashem wants us to collaborate with him, to show him taanos that will make it easier for him to plead our case. Hashem is telling us, “I am your lawyer. All you have to do is help Me make your case.”

This past week, we learned about a different kind of vidui in the Torah. In vidui maaser, the text that we say is not what we did wrong, but what we did right. “I gave maaser to the Levi, to the convert, to the orphan and widows, according to the commandments that You have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of Your commandments and I have not forgotten…I have listened to the voice of Hashem, my G-d, and I have acted according to everything You commanded me” (Devorim 26:13-15).”

With the yemei haSelichos upon us and Rosh Hashanah around the corner, perhaps the avodah that we have to do is a bit different than what we had previously thought. What is part of the avodah that we must do this Rosh Hashanah? We must seek ways to show Hashem that we want to be better, that we can be better, and that even when we transgressed, it wasn’t malicious, as there were so many mitigating factors. We must show Him that we really are looking for ways to ensure that we won’t fall into the same trap of the yeitzer hara again.

We can do that. We can supply Hashem with taanos in our favor, with limudei zechus. It is not so hard.

We all want to be better. We all realize that sometimes, against our will, the yeitzer hara gets the best of us, but we can tell Hashem that we have eitzos, we have ways and ideas to show Him that we will try harder this year. It isn’t hard to find mitigating factors in the difficult generation in which we live, but we have to do it ourselves. Hashem wants to be our lawyer, but He needs us to supply Him with ways to show that whatever we did that was not good is not our essence.

Hashem is our lawyer. He is begging us and pleading with us, “Help Me! Help Me be able to defend you!”

L’Keil Orech Din!

Based on a thought that appeared in Kuntres Oz Nidberu.