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Ori v'Yishi

By: Rav Michael Susman

As we have noted on several occasions, Parshat Netzavim always falls immediately prior to Rosh HaShana. In previous years we have focused on different aspects of the Parsha which link to the themes of Yamim Noraim and Teshuva. This year, rather than focusing on the Parsha itself, I have chosen to look at a more general facet of the run up to the Yamin Noraim, namely our practice of saying LDavid Hashem Ori, the 27th chapter of Tehilim, (henceforth LDavid) twice daily beginning on Rosh Chodesh Ellul and continuing through Hoshana Rabba.

The basis for this custom comes from the Midrash in Vayikra Rabba (21:4) which ties the psalm to the Yamim Noraim. Hashem Ori vYishi God is my light and my savior. When explaining the passuk, the Midrash says as follows: Ori, referring to Rosh HaShana, Yishi, referring to Yom Kippur. But what does the Midrash wish to tell us by suggesting this not so obvious reference?

The Midrash in Tehillim expands upon this somewhat cryptic statement and suggests that light refers to Rosh HaShana based on the passuk in Tehillm (37:6) which states that Hashem will bring forth, like light, his righteousness and his justice, like (the brightness of) the afternoon. Yishi, salvation, refers to Yom Kippur which is the time that God will save us and forgive all our sins.

The passuk describes Hashem in two ways, my light and my salvation, which at first glance are not necessarily compatible. What is the connection between the two? From the Midrash we can understand that there are two aspects to the Yamim Noraim, judgment and salvation. The two might not be obviously linked, but they reflect a critical contrast between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, a contrast without which we miss a vital message of the Yamim Noraim. Rosh HaShana is Yom HaDin, the day of judgment. By definition, justice can only be done in the light, in a most public and open manner. Any attempt to secretly or quietly mete out justice is bound to fail, as those on the outside can never be sure that justice was done. Moreover, if justice is to be served then the perpetrator must face up to his wrongdoing, something which is almost impossible if his actions are not exposed to the light of day.

Salvation, however, is something else entirely. On Yom Kippur we are granted the opportunity to be forgiven for our sins as an act of kindness from Hashem. In a way this salvation is the antithesis of justice (which may be the reason why Yona had so much difficulty with Gods accepting the teshuva of the people of Ninveh). If wrongdoing can only be corrected by being exposed to the harsh light of justice, why does God forgive us and grant us salvation from our sins? Is this not in fact a miscarriage of justice, a granting of an unwarranted and uncalled for "get out of jail free" card? Part of the answer may lie in the concept of vidui, confession of ones sins. In a sense, confession also shines a light on ones actions. How embarrassed we are when we truly confess our misdeeds to the one we have wronged! While in a court of law such a confession might serve to mitigate the punishment that an individual faces, it certainly does not exculpate an individual. Yet this is the power of teshuva, the power to bring salvation.

Our recognition of this contrast can help us understand the continuation of the Midrash in Vayikra. The Midrash goes on to describe the confusion and frustration of the nations of the world when they see Am Yisrael being forgiven for their sins. How was our behavior different then the behavior of the Jews? they ask. According to the Midrash, David HaMelech answers that on one day a year, Yom Kippur, God denies the heavenly prosecutor the right to indict Am Yisrael. The act of teshuva is sufficient to grant salvation.

In his work, Iyunim BMizmorai Tehillim (pp71-80), Rav Elchanan Samet examines the structure of LDavid. (For another approach to understanding the structure, see, for example, Daat Mikra.) Rav Samet suggests that LDavid can be split into two even halves, with the final passuk acting as a connector to combine the two pieces. The first half (1-6) is characterized by an almost unearthly sense of calm and tranquility on the part of David HaMelech. The second half (7-13) in contrast, presents us with a David HaMelech filled with doubt and angst. As Rav Samet puts it, in the first half of the chapter David HaMelech reflects as an individual with complete and unwavering faith in his God, a faith which can not be shaken. In the second half of the perek, however, David HaMelech expresses himself as someone who fears that Hashem will abandon him and whose ability to rely on Gods salvation is fragile indeed.

In a fascinating analysis, Rav Samet asks what it is which connects the two halves of the psalm. If the order of the psalm had been reversed, with David first expressing doubt regarding Gods willingness to protect him and then expressing trust and belief in that salvation, we would feel comfortable with the message. Man moves from angst to tranquility as he learns to trust Hashem. In LDavid, however, the message appears to be the opposite. At first David HaMelech expresses unwavering confidence in his relationship with God, a confidence which appears frayed and faded in the continuation of the perek. How can this be?

Rav Samet suggests that L'David is in fact reflecting the duality of man's relationship with Hashem. There are times when our relationship with God is clear and unambiguous, and that creates a sense of tranquility in man. But there are other times when we feel cut off from Hashem, we search for Him but we feel that we can not find Him.

In this analysis Rav Samet is in fact suggesting an opposite explanation of Ori and Yishi than the one we had put forward earlier. From this perspective Ori is an expression of the relationship that man has with Hashem on Rosh HaShana. Everything is clear, well defined, tranquil and serene. Man's faith in Hashem is a given, all is good. Yishi, the salvation of Yom Kippur, is a far more turbulent undertaking. Where is God, why is He hidden from us, why must we search for Him? We seek salvation but we are uncertain that it is forthcoming.

To demonstrate this contrast Rav Samet quotes the Rav, Rav Soloveitchik, from his essay Mah Dodecha Dod. On Rosh HaShana, says the Rav, God comes looking for man. On Yom Kippur we seek Him out. When Hashem comes forth to us, He does so publicly and openly, revealing His majesty and His judgment. When man seeks God, he is on a private journey of self-discovery and introspection, a search for a God who is not always clearly visible.

This, then, is the contrast between David HaMelech's Ori and Yishi, the difference between a conviction in God's being there and the uncertainty of being alone and abandoned. To achieve salvation we must search God out, despite our doubts, regardless of our insecurity. To be sure, this is a frightening journey, fraught with self doubt and angst. But it is the only path to teshuva, and to yeshua.

 

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