Din cannot be ignored, however, and there are times and situations where it comes into full force. For reasons we humans will likely never understand, Hashem runs this world in cycles and time settings. There are times of greater leniency, and times that demand more scrutiny in judgment. We are advised to daven on Yom Kippur with extra fervor because it is a time of greater rachamim. The same amount of regret and teshuvah on our part will accomplish more. The middah of rachamim is in greater force.
This seems to be the answer to the question on Rashi. When Hashem was taking retribution on the firstborn of Mitzrayim, justice was being served, so there was a global shift in the middah in operation. Din went into effect. As such, it was a very dangerous time. Now man – any man – would be judged with the system of din, and very few individuals would be able to pass as innocent. Therefore, Klal Yisrael was warned, “Do not go out from your home.”
The destructive angel was given permission to act in a manner different from normal circumstances. A person who might be innocent under the normal mercy system would now be found guilty and might warrant death. Because of that, the Jews were advised to avoid the situation.
This concept has great applications to our lives. In many situations, we are tempted to question Hashem: “It’s not fair! Why should that person suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people?” Yet when we focus on what man is capable of accomplishing, we understand there are very few individuals who truly live up to their potential. If the middah of din were exacted, there would be few who would escape unscathed. So there are no issues of “it’s not fair.”
The only question is why in one case it seems din is in operation more than in another. And because there are so many factors that affect the balance, we humans may never know the answer to these global questions. However, the question of Hashem’s “cruelty” never applies.
Even more, these concepts affect our relationship to Hashem. When we understand what strict din is, we understand our very existence is dependent upon mercy. We can then tap into one of the most powerful forces in Creation. Even a slight change in the amount of mercy Hashem uses in judging me can have a fantastic difference in the outcome. The question I have to ask is: How do I awaken the middah of mercy?
One of the keys is to utilize the power of tefillah, to ask Hashem for help – not based on my merit or anything I have done, but out of sheer mercy. Another method is to act toward other people with mercy. Chazal tell us that the way a person is judged mirrors the way he judges others.