How Jury Duty Prepared Me for Rosh Hashanah
I thought jury duty was going to be waste of time. Instead it changed my life.
Jury duty is a fact of life when you live in Baltimore, MD.
It means sitting all day in a room waiting for your number to be called for possible selection on a jury along with 700 people. So many people come since the attorneys will disqualify most potential jurors for some reason or another.
For many years I escaped the jury duty experience, but the day finally came when I got that ill-fated card in the mail. So off I went, not wanting to get fined or, as the card states, possible jail time.
I got there right on time, at 8:30 AM without knowing that I could have arrived at 10AM and no one would have missed me.
My jury duty began and I waited.
I tried to utilize the time as best as I could, reading and studying Torah but it was not the best environment within which to learn. I couldn’t concentrate so well.
A half hour after lunch break, for the first time all day there was an announcement instructing 200 of us to report to a specific courtroom.
We followed a court employee like a mini-parade as we ventured outside to a courthouse a couple of blocks away. We finally got to our destination and were asked to sit down on the benches in the viewers section of the courtroom. Eventually the room fell eerily silent and the judge informed us that we would begin the proceedings shortly.
At that point, an attorney approached the judge and then another attorney who seemed to represent the opposing side also ‘approached the bench.’
The judge conversed with them for 15 minutes while we potential jurors in the audience sat quietly.
Finally, the judge spoke to us.
“Ladies and gentleman, I would like to thank you for giving up your day and devoting yourself to the public service of jury duty. I know many of you had to give up a day of work, while others had to find child care for their young ones. Your fellow citizens appreciate your dedication to this important task.
“Let me explain the great assistance you just accomplished without you even realizing what you have done. The man standing by the desk to my right has been accused of murder. Throughout the morning we were trying to see if he would plead guilty, plea-bargain and avoid a trial but he kept on maintaining his innocence, despite the heavy and serious evidence gathered against him. Consequently, shortly after the lunch break, I had the 200 of you summoned to this courtroom so as to begin jury selection proceedings.
“But now I am pleased to report to you that as you all proceeded into this room, reality began to sink in to the defendant and he began to truly recognize that a trial against him was actually about to begin. Apparently, the depth of the matter did not really hit home until he saw the 200 of you piling into the room.
“He has now chosen to change his plea to guilty. You have all accomplished a great thing for our society by merely being here today and I am pleased to tell you that you may all go home!”
As I happily raced out of there, a stark, sobering lesson stared me in the face.
The defendant kept pretending that he would somehow get away with it. He didn’t take the possibility of a trial and conviction to a harsh and long sentence seriously. He was in denial. Only when hundreds of jurors arrived to begin the trial proceedings did he accept that he was at the point of no return and it was ‘now or never’ to plead guilty and receive less of a punishment.
Why does God judge us every year?
And I instantly saw myself doing something similar. Don’t I also push away the thoughts of consequences for my misdeeds? Don’t I also pretend sometimes that I could somehow avoid reaping what I have sown?
Rosh Hashanah is coming. We face a judgment during these Days of Awe.
Judgment sounds daunting and negative. Why does God judge us every year?
An answer is nestled in another name that Rosh Hashanah has. In the Machzor it is called Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance. On Rosh Hashanah, as we stand before God all the moments of the past year -- the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly – the ones we remember and the ones we forget, all of them are right there, in living color, before God who forgets nothing. On Rosh Hashanah every moment is remembered, looked at and judged.
God’s judgment isn’t to exact revenge. His judgment means that He cares about everything we do. Our actions matter. Through judgment, God makes us aware that our choices make a real difference. Our lives are significant; we are responsible for shaping the world. And that meaning and responsibility is a tremendous cause for celebration.
We are all facing a trial. Will we be like that defendant who didn’t take his judgment seriously until it was almost too late? Or will we confront reality, admit our guilt and prepare for trial?
Let’s get ready by living a little better today than yesterday. Let’s make sure to perform some kindness, study some Torah and take our next step in growth, whatever it may be. And let’s look in the mirror and see where we are guilty and resolve to do better.
Facing the real consequences of my choices was my grand jury impact.
(Based on Rav Yaakov Weinberg’s insights)