Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Thought About Judgment

...in response to someone who has a hard time believing that din is happening on Rosh Hashana due to the assumption that anyone who dies during the year must have died as punishment for sins.

Human beings are mortal.
We all die at some point.
And we all sin, we all make mistakes.
Even the most righteous people do not live forever.
That's part of being human.
Some people die because their souls are weighed down with muck.
Some people die so that the scars on their souls will be scoured and healed.
Some people die and their soul is as clear as the day they were born.
They pumped my father's soul through machines to clean it before he died.

The Creator of Worlds is an artist.
The universe is beautiful and it is tragic.
The tragedy is part of what makes it beautiful.
When the Books of Life and Death are open,
they are not open to us.
They are open before God.
No one knows what calculations are written there in spreadsheet charts.
No one knows what plot hooks and character developments are scribed there in longhand.

The Story -- the Film -- the Tapestry -- the Song --
it is bigger than us.
It's bigger than any individual.
Bigger than any family, any nation, any species.
When i miss the bus,
is it because i insulted a friend?
is it because i begrudged a family member?
is it because i didn't give enough charity?
made an error in the laws of Shabbos? didn't check my tefillin? ate too little maror last Pesahh, or outside the sukka three years ago?
Or is it something my parents did? My brother did? Did my German lumberjack ancestor's axe break when he was trying to cut down a tree, and the axehead flew off and killed someone, who he buried in secret? Do my apartmentmates do anything in the bathroom that they shouldn't?
Maybe it's because Israel is in Hhevron, or because Israel is no longer in Gaza. Maybe it's because the USA is in `Iraq, or because we're not in Iran.

Maybe it's not even me.
Maybe it's the guy standing next to me in the bus shelter.
What kinds of horrible things could he have done in his life?
What kinds of beautiful things could he have done in his life?

We are all connected.
Synchronically. Diachronically.
Across time and space.
What I do affects me.
What I do affects you.
What I do affects my hypothetical potential children, and yours.

Every strand is woven together. No one knows what the overall picture looks like.
Every word is chosen with will. When a pistol appears in the first chapter, by the final chapter it will have been fired.
Every note has a mind of its own. We all sing, sometimes in harmony, sometimes apart; sometimes in consonance, sometimes in dissonance. Sometimes the Conductor removes an instrument from the orchestra because it's broken. Sometimes it's just for the greater glory of the sound.

The Book is open before the Author.
The Tapestry is strung before the Weaver.
The Score is laid out on the Conductor's stand.
The Film lies on the Director's cutting room floor. Pieces are threaded through projectors. Scenes are clipped, cut, taped, mixed, and matched. Sometimes an actor flubs their lines, and is cut from the final project. Sometimes an improvisation is so good that it gets back-written into the script. Sometimes a scene is perfect... but not for this film... and so it doesn't make the final cut.

Sheep pass before their Shepherd in single file.
Soldiers pass before their General in regiments.

It's about you, but it's not just about you.
It's about me, but it's not just about me.
There are plans.
There are wheels turning.
The wheels tighten the weave.
The wheels reel in the film.
There are plans within plans.

So yes, you are being judged.
You are being judged on your own behavior, and on that of those you come into contact with, those with whom you share breath and life.
And you are being judged on your place in the Universe as a whole.
It is your fault if your criminal record is sordid and turgid.
It's not your fault if your strand needs to be cut and tied off, or if your instrument needs to be removed from the orchestra.
It's for the greater beauty of the art, you see.
It works on many levels.

Everything works on many levels.
All at the same time.

But the levels are only clearly visible from Above.

I may die tomorrow.
I may die next week.
It says nothing about what happens on Rosh Hashana.
Will i be judged lacking in moral worth? Lacking in artistic merit? Or is my tragedy key to the story? Am i a nameless red-shirt far from home, or am i Juliet?

So yes, there is judgment. And that is something to be feared, respected, challenged, fought, embraced. But we can never know what type of judgment it is. And we can never know if it's about us as individuals, about us as groups, or about the entire plot/symphony/weave, from exposition to denouement.

We each control ourselves. We play our characters. We make our decisions. We try. We roll our dice. We affect the world, the Board, and each other, to the best of our ability. But the Gamemaster is the one with the stat sheets and the plot points hidden behind a screen, making the final calculations and the final decisions.


ליל יום שני, כ"ז אלול, ה'תשס"ז

10 Comments:

Anonymous Jen said...

:/

9/16/2007 8:40 PM  
Blogger Ezer K'negdo said...

really beautiful. thanks for sharing it. g'mar chatima tovah.

9/17/2007 8:58 AM  
Blogger Michael Koplow said...

Very interesting and thought provoking (which is why I'm not really commenting--I need to chew this over).

Gmar tov, Steg.

9/17/2007 9:59 AM  
Blogger ALG said...

Hmmmm... If we can't ever tell how or on what basis we're being judged, and whether it is for our actions or the actions of others, I have difficulty wrapping my mind around it at all, or seeing any value in feeling as if one is being judged. As someone who tends to, unfortunately, judge both herself and others more harshly than is necessary, I have a hard time accepting this aspect of God. I tend to meditate on other aspects of the Yamim Noraim (regret, return, improvement, turning amorphous hopes and dreams for self-improvement into concrete actions), and to leave the judging for God to think about.

Thank you for writing this, though. I don't think I've ever articulated this particular thought before, and it's a very good thing for me to think about.

9/17/2007 4:06 PM  
Anonymous knitter of shiny things said...

Wow. Just wow. and *hug*

9/17/2007 10:07 PM  
Blogger Scraps said...

Wow.

This post gave me chills.

Well said.

9/18/2007 3:47 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

G'mar tov.

9/19/2007 1:57 AM  
Anonymous Elie said...

This is wonderful. I want to print it out and share it with my family and the people in shul. It gives me chizuk at a very rough time. Thanks.

9/19/2007 10:55 AM  
Anonymous brother aharon said...

Very nice and I think more people should read it.

But you deal almost exclusively with *punishment*...*reward* should work the same way, right?

Also: rewards can sometimes be hidden punishments and vice-versa.

9/20/2007 6:46 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

thanks for all the feedback... interesting how some people seem to read it as depressing, and others read it as uplifting. i'm not quite sure how i meant it, but it was meant to invoke the beauty of the universe, whether you think that's a good excuse or not.

and yes, "reward" should work the same way.

9/24/2007 9:08 AM  

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