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Judgment Means Love

Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10 )

by Rabbi Boruch Leff

All of us fear judgment. No one likes to go to traffic court for a violation. Certainly we don't crave hearing our bosses' evaluation of our performance. And when we ponder the fact that God looks down upon us and judges us, it is quite a scary thought. Yet, with deeper profundity, we will discover that God's judgment only comes out of love.

This week's Torah portion, Tetzaveh, describes the commandments regarding the types of clothing and "uniforms" that the kohanim (priests) and the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would wear for their service in the Tabernacle. In addition to the "glory and splendor" (Shemot 28:2) of these beautiful vestments, the Talmud (Zevachim 88b) reveals that the High Priest's wearing of his special clothes would somehow evoke God's mercy and help the Jewish People achieve atonement (with proper repentance) for various sins. Let us study this passage of the Talmud:

"The tunic (shirt) atones for murder. The pants atone for adultery. The turban atones for haughtiness. The belt atones for evil thoughts. The breastplate atones for corrupt justice. The apron atones for idolatry. The robe atones for slanderous speech. And the headplate atones for brazenness."

The High Priest represented the Jewish People through his service in the Tabernacle. He wore 12 precious jewels on his breastplate, each symbolizing one of the 12 tribes (Shemot 28:21). One might describe the High Priest as a living embodiment of the entirety of the Jewish Nation. And this living embodiment was constantly serving in the holy Tabernacle, which was God's dwelling amidst the nation. The High Priest was the holiest and closest person to God and he was serving in the location most dear to God.

It seems strange then for the eight garments of the High Priest to continually remind God of the sins of the Jews. True, it is not a reminder in an absolutely negative sense -- we are being granted a type of atonement. But one would think that the High Priest's clothing should relate more to expressions of love, merits, or righteous deeds of the Jews, rather than a mention of our sins, even if those sins are forgiven.

And besides, why does God constantly care so much about our sins? Why the need to judge us all the time? (The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16a) says that we are actually judged every day and not just on The Jewish New Year.)

In addition, we actually celebrate Rosh Hashanah as a holiday, even though it is the annual Day of Judgment. What exactly are we celebrating? Do defendants celebrate their day in court? Or do they dread it with nervousness?

Finally, what is so special about turning Bat/Bar Mitzvah? Why do we rejoice when our daughters turn 12 (yes, girls do mature faster) and our sons turn 13?

The answer to all of these queries is a fundamental concept in our relationship with God.

Why does God judge us? It cannot be because He has a need to judge or to exact revenge. God, by definition, is perfect and the ultimate source of goodness. He has no needs. It must be that He judges us for our benefit. Why is judgment to our benefit? God through His judgment shows us that He cares about everything that we do. We are so important to Him that He constantly watches us. He is concerned with our every move. We are the beings, through our free will, who shape the world and its destiny. Through judgment, we are made aware that every little thing that we do makes a difference. We matter. We are significant and responsible. And responsibility is a tremendous cause for celebration.

We live in a generation that has often been described as one that lacks self-esteem and self-worth. Depression is at an all-time high. There have never been as many suicides as there have been in modern times. Surely, many people have clinical issues that require professional treatment. But, we could suggest that if we would contemplate on God's care for us and that the manner in which we perform our 'small' daily activities matters to Him and to the entirety of the world's existence, would we still have low self-esteems? Our routine moral tests and challenges make or break all of the universe's purpose and meaning. Is that not a cause for immense joy?

So we celebrate Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgment. We are happy to have God care deeply about our actions. We relish in the thought of having our lives laced with significance.

And we rejoice at a Bar/Bat Mitzvah because we are thrilled with the prospect of a youngster's life becoming more meaningful with the advent of responsibility. Now, every action and thought of the youngster is filled with importance, which was not the case before ages 12 or 13.

The fact that God judges us shows His love and concern. He is not indifferent to our actions. The worst type of treatment in a relationship is indifference. Marital therapists know that as long as a couple is still fighting, it is possible to save the marriage. If a husband is bothered by things his wife does, or vice versa, love is still present. That's why they make each other angry. If they become indifferent to each other and disappointments no longer matter to them, divorce is almost inevitable. So too, the fact that God cares about all of our actions, for good and for bad, means He loves us.

This is the profundity of God's judgment. And this is why our sins and their atonement are such an important factor in the High Priest's clothing. Our sins are foremost on God's 'mind' because He loves us and wants to see us improve.

Let's be responsible with our responsibility. If we never knew what we celebrated at our Bar/Bat Mitzvah, let's celebrate a personal and private one today with this newfound awareness of our enormous weight and gravity for the universe.

We matter.

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