Shabbat Rosh Hashana 5765
Divine Justice and Human Justice
On a day when we need all the merit, individually and collectively, as we can get, it seems appropriate to deal with the topic of proper human justice. After all, we are told that it is a key ingredient in the important blessing of ultimate redemption (see Yeshaya 1:27). On the other hand, while in the midst of standing as defendants before the Divine Judge, it seems almost sacrilegious to think about man as a judge of any stature or consequence. So perhaps it would be proper to consider the difference between Divine Justice and human justice to the degree that we are able to understand it.
Certainly, the main description we attribute to Hashem on this Day of Judgment is His role of king. It seems that this title is very connected to His role as Judge as well. All year long, the only beracha of Shemoneh Esrei that finishes off with a mention of Hashem’s kingdom is the beracha on justice. During the Ten Days of Repentance, this connection is strengthened when we remove extra words and talk just about “the King of Justice.” What is the connection between these two concepts?
On one hand, the Rambam (Melachim 4:10) views the judicial role as one of the most basic functions of the Jewish king. On the other hand, the king does not take part in the Sanhedrin (ibid., Sanhedrin 2:4). Derashot Haran (#11) and the Abarbanel (Introduction to Shoftim) say that the king judged his subjects in a manner that was much less bound to set laws than a dayan does. He was allowed to use more subjective criteria in order to enable the judgments to impact positively on society as a whole. (See Avnei Nezer YD 312 who deals with the strong and weak points of this thesis.) It is likely that this royal approach to justice finds its roots in the justice of the King of Kings.
Interestingly, David Hamelech asked Hashem to grant Shlomo the ability to judge properly with the words, “Endow Your justice to the king” (Tehillim 72:1). Perhaps this refers to Hashem’s Divine form of justice, which David prayed that Shlomo, as king, would succeed in implementing to the most correct degree humanly possible. The navi illustrates Shlomo’s success as a judge with the story of the baby with two women claiming to be the mother. Shlomo’s display of brilliance seems to go beyond the bounds of correct, judicial procedure.
Human judges can take into account only legal considerations directly related to the case. Hashem can and does incorporate countless factors, including considerations of mercy and justice toward those who are not even being judged but are affected by a cosmic ripple effect. With all due respect to Shlomo and other king-judges, our full trust is only in Hashem, whose justice is perfect and without flaw. “He is righteous and straight” (Devarim 32:4).
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Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of R’ Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m. and Eliezer Ben Avraham Mordechai Jacobson