Must Precede Anger
Let us examine the verse that states, “The L-RD said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I shall do to Pharaoh...’ G-d spoke to Moses” (Exodus 6:1-2).
Hashem again spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the L-RD” (v.2). The Zohar asks why at the beginning is it written, “The L-RD said” (using the Tetragrammaton, which denotes the attribute of mercy), whereas afterwards the Torah states, “G-d spoke to Moses” (using the name Elokim, which denotes the attribute of justice), and then finally the Tetragrammaton is again used (Zohar III:227a, 30b).
The reason for this is because the Torah commands us to “reprove your fellow” (Leviticus 19:17) if we see him behaving improperly (see Erchin 16b). We should do so with great tact by first using soft and gentle language. However if he does not improve his conduct, we should speak to him with a firmer tone, even to the point of shaming him (Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 7:8).
This is also the approach that a father should adopt with respect to his son. Otherwise, he might leave his father’s home and become morally ruined. Similarly Moses, who spoke inappropriately with the King of kings, was first reprimanded according to the attribute of Divine mercy (“the L-RD said”), then more strongly through the attribute of justice (“G-d spoke”).
The Talmud makes the following distinction: “There are four new years: One for kings (the first of Nissan); one for tithes of animals (the first of Elul); one for years, the Shmita and the Jubilee (the first of Tishri); and finally one for trees (the first of Shevat according to the School of Shammai, the fifteenth of Shevat according to the School of Hillel)” (Rosh Hashanah 2a). The Talmud also teaches that the world is judged at four times (ibid. 16a), and that on Rosh Hashanah all creatures appear like a flock of sheep before the Holy One, blessed be He, to be judged, as it is written: “He Who fashions their hearts together, Who comprehends all their deeds” (Psalms 33:15). An obvious question arises: Since the entire world is judged on Rosh Hashanah, why is it necessary to set aside three other times for this as well?
The reason is that man resembles a tree of life, as it is written: “For man is the tree of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19) Yet following Adam’s sin, which tainted the Tree of Knowledge, all of Creation became tainted. For that matter, this is what brought death into the world. Even the ground was punished for the sin it committed. In fact the Talmud (Yerushalmi Kilayim 1:7) teaches: “Adam, Eve, and the serpent were all judged, but the earth was cursed with them, as it is written: ‘Accused is the ground because of you’ [Genesis 3:17].” Why was it cursed? It is because it broke the Divine command that fruit trees should yield, after their kind, fruit that contained its own seed in the ground (Genesis 1:11). In other words, the earth should have produced trees that were edible and that tasted like the fruits they yielded. However “the earth brought forth … trees yielding fruit” (v.12), and so the earth was also punished, as it is written: “Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you” (Genesis 3:18).
If all a man’s needs were to be judged at the same time as he was (on the first of Tishri), they would have no time to “defend” themselves, since all of Creation was tainted after Adam’s sin. In fact, our Sages have taught that the accuser does not become a defender (Berachot 59a), and that there is absolutely no mercy in judgment (Ketubot 84a). Hence it is written, “You save both man and beast, O L-RD” (Psalms 36:7), and so man is saved by the merit of animals [even if they cannot intercede for themselves, just as the earth was punished after Adam’s sin].
This is why our Sages fixed a different date for each of the four types of years, one for each of man’s needs. For example, by consuming the products of the harvest, a man can elevate the sparks of holiness that were scattered in Creation and hasten the Final Redemption of Israel and the advent of Mashiach (see Ohr HaHaim on Genesis 49:9 and Kedushat HaShulchan, where the author discusses this subject at length).
We find an allusion to this in the month of Shevat, when we succeed in repairing the incarnations of fruits: During the new year for trees, we receive good news (the initials of shinitbasser bessorot tovot form the word shevat) by means of our righteous redeemer. Consequently, as we saw above, there exist periods of mercy and periods of strict justice (which is why trees are not judged on the new year that begins in the month of Tishri, the time when man is judged).
Moses asked G-d, “My L-rd, why have You done evil to this people?” (Exodus 5:22), or in other words: “Why do You act towards them with Your attribute of justice?” As Moses phrased it, “From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name [the attribute of justice], he did evil to this people” (v.23). G-d told Moses that such was not the case, for the attribute of mercy always follows that of justice. In the final analysis, the attribute of mercy takes precedence over the Children of Israel, and as such they will merit being delivered.