The Mercy of a Father for His Children
Rabbi Shlomo Vilk
The laws of repentance and the prayers of the Days of Awe are more about concession and throwing up our hands in submission than about asking for forgiveness.
We are supposed to repent throughout the year; we would expect intensification during this period. Yet instead, we give up in despair, call out to God and say that we have no chance of repenting, that there is no way we will succeed.
Throughout the year we tried. Now that the Days of Awe have arrived we admit that we have failed, and we turn to God asking Him to accept us as we are. This is the only way that we can truly expect to be forgiven, because all our attempts at making amends appear to be pathetic when compared to what is expected of us.
Addressing the Jewish nation, Moses said that God does not expect much from us, ‘merely’ “to fear God and to walk in all His ways” (Deut. 10:12). The Talmud (Brakhot 33) wonders whether fearing God and keeping His commandments are such a trivial matter. The answer provided by the Talmud reveals the truth. These demands were easy for Moses to fulfill, difficult for Joshua, and impossible for us.
God chose us to be His people; the choice became a heavy burden and led to very high expectations. The only way to be acquitted in judgment is to concede, to lower expectations and to submit. We admit before God that we were not successful, and ask Him to do what He feels is right, because we can no longer manage. Can any father resist such a request?
The piyyut of “HaYom Harat Olam – Today is the day of the world’s gestation” continues: “Whether as children or as servants. If as children, be merciful with us as the mercy of a father for his children,” without being judgmental and always seeing the good. “If [we stand in judgement] as servants, our eyes depend upon You,” we intone. Without any merits, without trying to find favor in Your eyes.
We only beseech God that even if we have strayed so far – or perhaps precisely because we have done so – maybe He will have pity on a poor and desolate nation.
Rabbi Shlomo Vilk is Rosh Yeshivat Hesder Beren Machanaim