On this day, 5762 years ago, G-d created Adom and Chava — Adam and Eve. Since then, every year on this day, G-d makes an accounting. He judges every human being. There are two primary ways through which we relate to G-d: strict judgment and loving-kindness. On this day, we feel a true manifestation of G-d’s judgment (Yom Kippur is our relation with G-d based on loving-kindness).
The great commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki; Rabbi in 11th century France) states that G-d wanted to create the world in judgment. He saw it would be unable to sustain itself, so He added the attribute of mercy. What does this mean? Does G-d change His “mind”?
Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, in his classic work, The Lips of Chaim, gives a beautiful answer: The reason G-d created the world is because He is, by definition, good, and He wants to bestow this goodness upon others. Ideally, man would have been able to achieve this lofty goal immediately after he had been created, through a perfect relationship with G-d. Were this to happen, there would be no need for mercy. G-d, however, in His omniscience knew this would not be possible. He therefore added mercy to the attribute of strict justice. But the question remains: if G-d is omniscient, why did He not start off with mercy?
Apparently there is a message here. G-d, as our creator, understands all too well. In fact He knows that for man to stumble and then pick himself up (a process known as Teshuva, which we will discuss more in regards to Yom Kippur) is one of the holiest levels a man can achieve. So the reason G-d started off with the attribute of judgment is that although he does not expect that level of perfection from us in practice, he does expect it from us in theory. Our mindset should be devoted to perfection. On Rosh Hashanah, when our primary activity is recognizing G-d as our King — which is done through prayer — this is extremely important. It shows where our minds and our hearts are. Even though we inevitably will stumble at different times during the year, we each desire to be the best person possible.
And although this is not an easy endeavor, G-d is awaiting us with outstretched arms. It says in the Zohar: G-d tells the Jewish people, “open for me an opening the size of the eye of a needle, and I will make you an opening the size of a large room.” This shows us that G-d is awaiting us. He wants us to be in the proper mindset to proclaim Him King, not for His own good, but for ours.
The best way for us to show we take our “crowning” of G-d seriously is to take Him seriously. That means, to the best of our abilities, to go in His ways. Be kinder. Do not speak harshly to one another. Keep the Shabbos the way we should.
Although we may not be perfect, and G-d doesn't expect us to be, He does expect us to enter this season with a true desire to be the best that we can. Then, G-d will judge...