'YOU Be the Judge!' The Kedushat Levi on Teshuvah

Intro: Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev (1740-1809), known as the Kedushat Levi, was one of the early Hassidic Masters, a direct disciple of the Maggid of Mezerich, who in turn was the chief disciple of the Ba'al Shem Tov. The Kedushat Levi was regarded as a phenomenal scholar, and wrote the first true masterpiece of Hassidic commentary on the Torah. But he was known, above all, as the "People's Defense Attorney." He loved his people, and always saw the best in them. He was famous for praying as if he were an advocate for the people of Israel, and audaciously demanding that God forgive them and immediately provide them with relief from their suffering.

So what will the Kedushat Levi do with these holidays which seem to move in the other direction, asking us to own up to our misdeeds and accept God's punishment? In this, the last of his commentaries on the High Holidays, we find him once again shifting the responsibity back to God. Along the way, he offers some startling psychological insights into how we judge ourselves.

אל תבוא במשפט עמנו כי לא יצדק לפניך כל חי.

יבואר על דרך משל:

בעבד המלך אשר חטא נגד המלך ויבקש את המלך להעביר את חטאתו ויצו המלך אותו לאמר אתה בעצמך תשפוט ותדין אותך ואיך שיהיה משפטיך על פי הדין כן יקום

ויתמרמר העבד על נפשו ויצעק צעקה גדולה ומרה שלא יעשה לו כן, כי ידע בנפשו שבודאי יתחייב על פי הדין שידין את עצמו והוא אינו יכול לעשות לפנים משורת הדין ויבקש את המלך ויתחנן לו שהוא ידין אותו כי מלך חנון ורחום הוא וכל יכול ובידו למחול את חטאתו לעשות לפנים משורת הדין.

כמו כן אנחנו מבקשים אל תבוא במשפט עמנו, רוצה לומר שגם אנחנו נהיה גם כן שופטים אותנו כי לא יצדק כו', פירוש כי ידענו שעל פי הדין אנחנו חייבים ואין בידינו לעשות לפנים משורת הדין. רק אתה בעצמך תשפוט ותדין אותנו, כי רחום וחנון אתה ומרבה לסלוח וכל יכול לעשות עמנו חסד לפנים משורת הדין ולמחול על חטאתינו ופשעינו ברחמיך המרובים...להשפיע לנו חיים וברכה וטובות וישועות ונחמות

אמן כן יהי רצון:

"Do not enter into judgment with us [your servants], because no living being can justify themselves before You." (Psalm 143:3)

This verse can be explained by means of a parable:

There once was a servant of the king who had transgressed one of the laws of the king, and requested that the king pardon him. But the king said to him, "Why don't you judge and sentence yourself? You tell me what the judgment should be, and whatever you say, I will enforce it."

But the servant immediately became agitated, and began to cry out, a long and bitter cry from the depths of his soul, begging the king not to ask this of him. Because the servant knew, in his soul, that by the strict letter of the law he would surely have to punish himself, and knew that he would not do anything less. So he begged the king to be the one to judge him, because he knew that the king was gracious and merciful, and had the power to forgive his crime, and to ignore the letter of the law.

So it is with us. We ask, "Do not enter into judgment with us," as if to say: If we were to judge ourselves, "no living being could justify themselves..." Because we know that by strict justice, we would be guilty, and we know that we cannot change that. So You, God, must judge us alone. For You are gracious and merciful, and full of forgiveness. You are able to be kind with us, to ignore the letter of the law, and to forgive our sins and crimes, in Your great mercy... and then to bestow upon us life and blessing, goodness, salvation and comfort.

Amen. May it be Your Will.


1. What is the plain and simple meaning of the verse the Kedushat Levi quotes from Psalms?

2. In the parable, why does the king ask the servant to judge himself?

3. Why does the servant want the king to judge him instead?

4. How is the parable meant to explain our own teshuvah process during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the role of God and prayer in that process?

5. Do you think it is true that we are our own harshest judges? Do you judge yourself more critically than others judge you?

6. What would it mean to turn your judgment over to a more gracious and compassionate force this year?