Our tradition holds that both justice and mercy are necessary in our world. Were there only mercy and no justice, people would have no reason to try and behave well, because there would be no accountability. Were there only justice and no mercy, humankind could never endure such strict standards, because we are flawed and often “fail to shine." Justice and mercy—both must exist, if we are to exist and coexist.
It is said that when the shofar sounds, God moves from the throne of Judgment to the throne of Mercy during the 10 days of repentance. So the time is ripe for us to make teshuvah. But there is a deadline. When the shofar sounds again at the end of Yom Kippur, God moves back to the other throne—the throne of Judgment, and the verdict is cast. We needn’t take the image literally, but if we aren’t even aware of it, we fail to appreciate the poetry in our liturgy.
Take "Avinu Malkeinu,” for instance. Avinu alludes to God as “our Parent,” a loving and merciful presence in our lives, while Malkeinu is “our Ruler,” who holds us accountable for our actions and sets the laws and standards by which we are to live. When we recite the words of Avinu Malkeinu, we are placing our faith in God to strike just the right balance between justice and mercy. We are acknowledging that both are required for humanity to exist. And we are praying an age old prayer that brings to life the ancient rabbinic imagination.
--Rabbi Nicole Roberts