A dispute came to the rabbi. To one protagonist the rabbi said, “You’re right!” To the other he said, “You’re right!”
When the rebbetzin said, “But how can they both be right?” the rabbi replied, “You’re right too!”
In religious thinking we constantly encounter polarities and ask how both can be right, but they are.
Man has freewill… but all is pre-ordained. God is our Father, warm, close, loving… and our King, stern, high above us, peremptory. Religion is philosophical… and emotional. The world rests on justice… and on mercy. Judaism is nationalistic… and universalistic. The human being is small, insignificant and ephemeral… but also “little lower than the angels”.
The dichotomies are there throughout the Rosh HaShanah prayers. They leave us uncertain about God – is He “on high in holiness” or “with the contrite and lowly” (Isa. 57:18)? And about man – is he a mere stage in Creation, or its summit and purpose? The answers are there too, implied on every page.
This should be our prayer: “God, high above us, look down and give us Your love”. “Man, earth and ashes, raise yourself to great thoughts and deeds”.