Judgment - a story which illustrates the difference between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur



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Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur

By Eli Katz

Do you know what is the difference between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? Well they seem a bit alike in that they are days of judgment, even though we do different things on different days. For example, on Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofar and eat a festive meal dipping an apple in honey, and on Yom Kippur, of course we don't eat, and we don't blow the shofar. But they are both considered days of judgment- What is the difference between them?

The difference can best be illustrated with a story of a Jew who lived in Russia during the cruel years of Stalin. The lack of available food and money caused him go to the illegal black market and sell his warm winter coat. Unfortunately the secret police caught him and arrested him. Brought in front of the judge, the judge said to him "Dealing in the illegal black market is a serious crime against the Soviet State and therefore I am sentencing you to twenty years of hard work in Siberia."

Hearing the harsh sentence, the Jew broke down crying, "Your Honor," he pleaded, "Please, I served in the Red Army and was decorated for valor and bravery. I was wounded in combat and yet saved my comrades from death at the hands of the enemy. For this I was given a special medal. I have been a member of the Communist Party for the past twenty-five years and received a letter from Chairman Lenin, honoring my efforts in behalf of the Communist Party. I haven't been paid for three months at the factory where I work, and my wife is ill and we had to have something to eat. Please forgive me for my transgression. You see my good record. Please give me a lighter sentence," the Jew sobbed.

The Judge was unimpressed. He leaned over and said, "My dear comrade, I see that it is true all of the fine things that you have done for the Soviet State, but, know, today we are not looking to see what you did right, we are looking at what you did wrong! The sentence is not changed!"

The helpless Jew was taken away to Siberia, where he was given backbreaking hard work to do and inhuman conditions in which to live. After several years, the camp warden called him and informed him that he was being taken back to appear in front of the judge for re-sentencing. The Jew trembled to hear that he was to be taken in front of the heartless judge who gave him such a harsh sentence.

"We have re-examined your record, and we see that you were a war hero, that you were wounded in defense of the Motherland, that you saved many of your comrades and that you were recognized by the State for your achievements. You were awarded several Medals.

"We see that Chairman Lenin and Chairman Stalin personally wrote you letters commending you for your efforts in behalf of the Communist Party of which you have been a member for the past twenty five years.

"We have seen that the factory in which you worked did not pay you for the last three months and that your wife was very ill. We understand that you were forced due to the harsh circumstances to sell your coat in the black market in order for you and your wife to remain alive.

"In view of this, the court has commuted your sentence. You are now a free man."

The Jew couldn't believe his ears! His eyes began to fill with tears and he cried like a baby! "Your honor," he spoke, "all this was known to the court at the time of my sentencing! I spent several years in Siberia in freezing cold weather, doing backbreaking work. Why didn't the court recognize my contribution then?"

The judge, leaned over and spoke to the man. Then we weren't interested in what you did right; we were interested in what you did wrong. Today we are looking at what you did right."

This is the difference between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah our own misdeeds are examined. On Yom Kippur, the good deeds that we do are examined

Unlike the heartless Soviet judge, we have HaShem. He is a merciful judge examining our deeds. We are certain that in the end, He will find us meritorious. Therefore even though we sound the shofar, the call of impeding danger, yet we feel secure in HaShem's judgment and so we have a festive meal.

On Yom Kippur, we fast, thereby increasing our merit on the final day of judgment and become spiritual people, no longer desiring physical gratifications.

So may it be for you and all of our Jewish brothers and sisters, that we be inscribed in the Book for a Good Year.


from the October 1997 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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