“Just Ask” – A Dvar Torah for Rosh Hashana and Aseres Yemei Teshuva

The first part of this Dvar Torah was excerpted from the sefer “He’aros B’Parsha” by the Rosh Kollel.

Apropos to Rosh Hashana and the judgement that takes place during this period of the year, let’s examine an interesting item in our daily Shmona Esrei and in the davening of Rosh Hashana.

In the bracha that begins “השיבה שופטינו,” “Return our judges,” we find that we ask of Hashem “וצדקנו במשפט,” that He find us righteous in His judgement. This seems to be an odd request. If we truly are righteous, why do we need to request that Hashem find us righteous. And if we aren’t really righteous, then how can we ask that Hashem consider us righteous in His judgement?  If anything, we should ask Hashem to ignore strict justice and, instead, use His attribute of mercy to consider us righteous even though we’re not quite there yet.

The answer is that we should understand the request differently.  We are not asking that Hashem find us righteous.  We are asking that Hashem make us righteous.  We are requesting that Hashem help us to learn His Torah, keep His mitzvos, and build our character, so that, when He does judge us, we truly will be found righteous.

This still requires some explanation, however.  What are we asking?  Do we mean “make me act righteously, even though I wouldn’t really do so on my own?”  Hashem gave us free will to make choices in our lives.  If we put forth the effort to grow, then we understand that we deserve to be found righteous.  But if we didn’t accomplish enough “on our own,” then what’s the point of asking Hashem to make us righteous?

The answer lies in an important concept explained in the sefer Sifsei Chaim by Rav Chaim Friedlander, ZT”L.  We know that Hashem told us that at certain times, it is proper to beseech Him to use His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.  One of those attributes is that Hashem is a חנון, He is gracious, i.e., He gives even to those who are undeserving.  Rav Friedlander asks the following question:  Hashem set up the world specifically in such a way that we must earn the good that He gives us.  The reason is so that we should not feel ashamed to enjoy all the bounty that He gave us, but rather, that we should feel that we did something to deserve it.  If that’s the case, then isn’t it self-defeating to ask Hashem to give us something when we did not do anything to deserve it?

The answer, says Rav Friedlander, is that we did do something – we asked!  It’s true that we need to put forth effort to grow.  But sometimes all that Hashem wants of us is that we ask Him.

This, then, is the explanation for our request that Hashem make us righteous.  If we already recognize that we need Hashem to accomplish our goal, and there is nothing left to do but to ask Him, then we have already done our part.  We can then be confident that to a request such as this, Hashem will respond in the affirmative.

Best wishes for a K’siva VaChasima Tova

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