These days of repentance and forgiveness intensify the ongoing struggle between judgement and unconditional love. On the personal plane, this translates into a struggle between holding ourselves accountable as opposed to being forgiving of ourselves. Rosh Hashanah, is characterized by the sages of the Talmud as the Day of Judgment. I believe that the characteristic judgement is generally misunderstood and unfairly maligned. It is safe to assume that most people would prefer to be forgiven rather than endure being scrutinized.
Rosh Hashanah is also called the Day of Remembrance. “He remembers all actions” — even those we would prefer He forgot, the memories we prefer to repress. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Most people would prefer a grandfather in heaven (namely a more forgiving easy-going God), rather than a father (i.e., an exacting and strict deity) in heaven.”
The chronological order of the holidays teaches us a spiritual process; Rosh Hashanah precedes Yom Kippur and judgement, which demands accountability, precedes forgiveness
God holds us — and we must hold ourselves — to a standard. Not only are we accountable for what we have done, we are held responsible for not becoming who we can be. When we suffer scrutiny, our experience is one of being judged harshly. These two states, being judged and being loved unconditionally, are generally seen as being in opposition to one another. Rabbi Ya’akov Leiner (1818-1878), teaches, however, that the attribute judgment actually derives from loving-kindness (Beit Ya’akov, Chaye Sarah 28). This suggests that we should shift our attitude and actually embrace judgement. Judgement is, in fact, an expression of the love of God who expects and believes that we can and must become more than we currently are.
We all need to have a five-year plan. Where do we want to be in five years? What changes do we seek in our relationships? What are we doing to deepen our avodat Hashem (service of God)? What personality traits are constricting our growth? The construction of the plan is the characteristic of Judgement. What do we expect and demand of ourselves moving forward?
After we construct a plan — then we can work towards forgiving ourselves; accepting our limitations and imperfections. We are each a work in progress. If we forgive ourselves too quickly, we may never accomplish what is possible. If we hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard, we may become frustrated and stagnant.
We need to pray to the Master of the Universe for clarity: to help us find the proper balance between accepting ourselves on the one hand, and holding ourselves to a high standard on the other. To ask for clarity to know when to make demands of ourselves and others, and when to gracefully accept our limitations and imperfections.
I believe this growth process will help us to become better human beings, better parents, friends and spouses.