I am allergic to the imagery of God as judge. As someone who has been aware for many years of the different layers of my own internal judges, frankly I can’t say another judge is what I am looking for. Give me something original please. As you’re probably well aware, the internal judges operate on several levels, the original judge, and then the judge of the judge, and even the judge of the judge of the judge. And it goes on. And of course it is not limited to the voices in our head. The endless cacophony of judges gets translated into criticism shot like an arrow at those around us, usually our nearest and dearest.
So when we come to the Days of Awe, what is there to do with this image of divine judge? What purpose can it serve? If we agree that we don’t need another layer of judgment to add on to our own judgments, then what role can we see for God’s judgment? What opening is there to relate to God as judge that creates a new paradigm and room for growth?
A few days ago I had a new thought about this. Perhaps if God is judge, then I am not. Perhaps I can leave judgment to God. And from where I sit, God’s judgment is actually my not-knowing. If I am judging then I am not letting God judge- and if God is judging then by necessity I do not know.
Instead of being something that adds to the layers of judgment, the concept of God as judge can free us from our own judgment. God, its all yours! We are giving up this job!
There is some way in which our judgment and our criticisms of others are serving us. I know for me, I may have some anxiety and then I see something that brings up some feelings and I am straight away looking to hang it on something, find something and someone to blame. When it says that Moshe was the most humble person on earth, Rashi says that he was a “savlan”. This can mean patient. But it can also mean that he could bear himself. Bearing oneself means that when one has an uncomfortable feeling we can hang in there and bear it- hold it and carry it- without passing it on like a hot potato in the form of a criticism to someone else.
I notice that there are some points in time when I am more susceptible to this kind of behavior. For example, the other day when I came home and my partner had done shopping, I noticed myself snooping around, inspecting all the new purchases and it was like I was setting myself up to come up with some comment that was not “thank you for doing the shopping” but more to the tune of “why did you get this?” or whatever. Each of you will probably have your vulnerable point, some transition time when you realize that feelings come up, and when they may be torpedoed onwards in the form of criticism and blame of others.
Several years ago in my Yom Kippur drasha, I publically announced that I had started a cold turkey diet of not criticizing my partner. People were up in arms. “What are you going to say to him if you can’t criticize him!” They were half-joking and half-serious. Since then I actually realized that although it is an important practice to try, deciding not to criticize is not enough. Now I am interested in dismantling the structures that bring about criticism as a response to my own discomfort. There are several ways to go about this. One option is to try to be aware of the discomfort as it is coming up, name it and find a way to hold it and allow it to move through you or dissipate. Another angle to approach it is to have a turn at dismantling your preferences. In this option, instead of try to change the way we sit with discomfort, we actually neutralize the possible role of criticism because we relax our understanding and sense of how things are and should be. In this paradigm, even if we are very uncomfortable there is no one to blame for anything and nothing to blame anyone about because we have dropped the structures of expectation that make criticism possible. And here too, God as judge can help..
So next time you encounter that God as judge, invite her in, let the mystery of her transform you, see how she can change your life.