A few years ago I saw a beautiful analogy by R’ Sheller of New York. He tells the story of one he stood in front of the large desk with his heart pounding. Essentially there was nothing to say. A task was expected of him and it was not completed.
He was standing in his boss’s office. For 5 days he had been asked to report to him about the project. Every day another excuse was offered and his patience had finally worn thin. D-Day arrived and there they were the boss on one side of the desk, his employee on the other.
He prepared for the worst. He knew he had not fulfilled the job commitment and that led to the frightening conclusion that he was about to lose his job. His boss waved his hand and pointed to the chair alongside the desk for me to sit.
However, his boss then walked around the desk to where he was sitting, and grabbed a chair to sit down beside him.
“Do you know why I’m sitting here next to you?” he asked. “So that you know we are on the same team. I’m not here to scold you. I hired you because I believed in your ability and skills. As your employer it’s my duty to ensure your success.”
Friends as we stand here today on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, there is a palpable fear, like a trembling student standing in front of the principal or like an employee before his superior.
The central phrase that describes the 13 Attributes of Mercy that Jews recite to receive God’s forgiveness is : “VAYAAVOR HASHEM AL PANAV VAYIKRA God passed before him (Moshe) and proclaimed…” implying that God Himself will call out the 13 attributes.
Rabbi Yochanan teaches us in the Talmud (Rosh Hashan 17b) that this verse teaches us shenitatef hakadosh baruch hu keshaliach tzibbuir – Hashem appeared to Moshe wrapped in a tallit as if He was the chazzan leading the kehila in prayer.
Hashem was demonstrating that He is with us, on our team, advocating and leading us back to the fold. He sat on our side of the desk, as the Medrash says that on Rosh Hashanah Hashem (figuratively) leaves His seat of strict judgment and moves over to His seat of mercy.
When R’Sheller received his boss’s reassurance he was relieved. However the conversation was not finished. He was waiting to hear a detailed plan of action that would fix the previous lack of commitment. He was assured that it would be on his desk that afternoon.
Rabbi Yochanan writes that when Hashem introduced the 13 Attributes, He told Moshe yaasu lefanay keseder haze vani mochel lachem – Let the Jews perform the following service (of the thirteen attributes).. & I will forgive.”
Notice the text of Rabbi Yochanan. He didn’t write, “Let the Jews say the 13 attributes”, but rather, “perform them…” Hashem wants us to emulate His ways, “Just like He is merciful, so too, you should be merciful.”
The way to repair our relationship with the Almighty is to signal with our actions that although we have failed in the past, we are ready to get back to work. He wants our detailed plan of action that we are committed to fulfill on His desk, no later than Yom Kippur.