Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tisa
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Yaakov Ben Behora

Parashat Ki Tissa

The Thirteen Attributes


Rabbi Reuven Grodner

It was Moses' passionate prayers that mitigated, what would have been, a calamitous punishment in the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf. New stone tablets were hewn by Moses, the Ten Commandments were inscribed by God, and a new revelation was experienced by Moses - the thirteen Attributes of Mercy. These thirteen attributes convey a new covenant between God and Israel that will forever prevent future failure on the part of Israel and rejection on the part of God. "A covenant was made with the thirteen attributes that they will never be turned away unanswered" (Rosh Hashanah 17b). Thus, on Yom Kippur, on fast days and in our Selichot, the thirteen attributes form an essential ingredient in our prayers.

It must be stressed, however, that it is not the mere incantation of the formula that brings forgiveness. Rather, it is the incorporation of these attributes of mercy into our personalities that guarantees God's mercy. As the Talmud states: "Whenever Israel sins, let them do before me this order, and I will forgive them (ibid.)." The emphasis is on the doing, not the saying. We become deserving of mercy when we are merciful; deserving of compassion, when compassionate.

Moses' response in Shemot 34:9 to the revelation of the thirteen attributes was two-fold. First, he asked of God that the Divine Presence never depart from the midst of the Jewish people. Secondly, he asked for forgiveness for our sins. Ramban understands that there was also a third request, namely, that Eretz Yisrael be granted to the Jewish people (U'nechaltanu - "and grant us our inheritance" = Eretz Yisrael).

The merit of imitating God's ways of lovingkindness and mercy will grant us three wonderful gifts: 1) God will be in our midst, 2) our sins will be forgiven, and 3) we will be privileged to inherit the Land of Israel.

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