09. The Judgment of Israel

The judgment of Israel impacts the entire world, since the relationship of Israel to the other nations is like the heart’s relationship to the body’s other organs. The existence of the entire world depends upon the Jews, who must reveal the light of Torah in the world in order to guide it to perfection. Thus, the Gemara declares, “God made a condition with the act of creation and said, ‘If the Jews accept the Torah, you will continue to exist; if not, I will return the world to chaos’” (Shabbat 88a). Ever since the Torah was given to the Jews, the world’s existence has depended upon their adherence to it. Furthermore, the redemption of the world depends upon the repentance of the Jews. Since Israel bears such a great responsibility, when they sin, their punishment is more severe than the punishment that other nations would incur for the same sin. On the other hand, the reward that Israel receives for choosing what is right is greater as well, since by doing so they bring blessing and redemption to the entire world.

Therefore, judgment on Rosh Ha-shana begins with the Jewish people, as we read: “Blow the shofar on the new moon, on the covered moon, for our festival day; for it is a law for Israel, a ruling for the God of Jacob” (Tehilim 81:4-5). Only after judging the Jews does God judge the other nations (Rosh Ha-shana 8a-b). This seems to imply that if (God forbid) the Jews choose evil, God will destroy them and the entire world. But God chose His nation and entered into a covenant with them. Therefore, even if they sin greatly, He will not desert them. Rather, He will punish them severely and rule over them wrathfully, in order to encourage them to return to the right path. This accords with the conclusion of the section of blessings and curses in Vayikra:

Yet even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or spurn them so as to destroy them, annulling My covenant with them; for I the Lord am their God. I will remember in their favor the covenant with the ancients, whom I freed from the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God; I am the Lord. (Vayikra 26:44-45)

Additionally, the blessings and curses of Devarim state that ultimately, after the suffering of the Jewish people, God will doubly punish their wicked tormentors, redeem His people, and purify His land: “For He will avenge the blood of His servants, wreak vengeance on His foes, and purify His land and His people” (Devarim 32:43). Similarly, we read: “For the Lord will not forsake His people; He will not abandon His very own” (Tehilim 94:14).

We see that the Jews’ existence in this world and the next is guaranteed. What judgment determines is what type of existence they will have. Will it be blessed and peaceful, or (God forbid) the opposite? Similarly, the Jews are guaranteed that redemption will arrive; if they repent, it will arrive more quickly and peacefully. If they do not repent, a long exile will culminate in terrible, awful suffering. Following this, the scattered Jews will gather together and settle Eretz Yisrael. They will continue to ascend until they achieve complete repentance and redemption (Sanhedrin 97b-98a; Zohar III 66b).

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