Rabbi Elazar M.M. Schach, head of the renowned Ponevizh Yeshivah, paid a pre-Rosh Hashanah visit to the Brisker Rav in what proved to be the latter's final year. A look of profound concern clouded the saintly man's countenance: "How," he asked, "can we emerge vindicated from the (upcoming) judgment and earn another year of life?"
Rabbi Schach responded with the passage in the Jerusalem Talmud which contrasts the way people tend to approach a regular court case with the way we Jews approach the annual Day of Judgment: Fear and trepidation in the first instance; something quite different in the second. Jews "don white garments, eat, drink and rejoice – confident that the Holy One will perform miracles for them."
This citation did not put the Brisker Rav fully at ease. Rabbi Schach thus elaborated:
A father once got very upset with his two sons and threatened to disown and disinherit them. To his surprise, however, the two later approached him – both dressed in their finest clothes. But the resemblance went no further. One son fell down before his father and begged for forgiveness; he accepted the judgment, but entreated his father to relent.
"If you are sorry," asked the father, "why have you bothered to dress up in holiday attire?!"
"Because I was so sure," came the answer, "of your love and compassion that I began my celebration beforehand!"
The other son, however, made no such gesture. He apparently showed up for a free lunch or supper. Is there any doubt about how Father will respond?
The terminology of the Jerusalem Talmud cited above, cries out for special consideration: Jews "don white garments, eat, drink and rejoice – are confident that the Holy One will perform miracles for them." The mention of miracles is perplexing.
And yet, when we begin to think about just how many times we have violated Hashem's wishes – through hard-heartedness, hurtful speech, immorality, deception, insincere confession, abuse of parents, desecration of G-d's Name, indulgence of our evil inclination, dishonesty, forbidden foods, haughtiness, rebelliousness, obstinacy… (and all the other sins spelled out in the Al Cheit Confession of Yom Kippur) – we realize that only a miracle can save us from a guilty verdict.
By coming to Rosh Hashanah services truly regretful of our wrongdoings, and committed to observing Hashem's commandments in the future, we have reason to hope that just such a miracle is not out of the question.