Beit Midrash

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Chapter Twenty One-Part Two

The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

5.The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy
After Hashem forgave Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf, and even agreed that Israel would be favored among all the nations in its special connection with Him, Moshe Rabbeinu implored, "Please let me have a vision of Your glory." Hashem replied, "I will make all My good pass before you, and reveal the Divine Name in your presence," meaning, I will disclose to you My Holy Name that is revealed to the world; however, it is impossible to grasp My essence, "For a person cannot see Me and live" (Exodus 33:18-20). "Hashem descended in a cloud, and stood there with Moshe, and he (Moshe) called out in Hashem’s Name. Hashem passed before him and proclaimed (Hashem called out and revealed His Names to Moshe), ‘Hashem, Hashem, merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, with tremendous kindness and truth. He remembers deeds of kindness for thousands [of generations], forgiving sin, iniquity, and error, and He cleanses’" (Exodus 34:5-7). These are the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.
Rabbi Yochanan said, "Were the verse not written, it would be impossible to say it. This teaches us that HaKadosh Baruch Hu wrapped Himself like a chazan and demonstrated to Moshe the order of the prayer. He said to him, ‘Any time that Israel sins, let them perform before Me this procedure and I will forgive them’" (Rosh HaShanah 17b).
With the acceptance of faith on the most supreme level, attained by reciting the Thirteen Attributes, we connect to Hashem in such a profound and exalted manner that our sins become marginal and exterior. In that state, atonement is achieved.
Therefore, in Selichot, on fast days and Yom Kippur, the Thirteen Attributes are recited numerous times in the prayer service. The customs vary regarding their recital on weekdays. According to the Ashkenazic and Yemenite (Baladi) minhagim, they are recited only on Mondays and Thursdays since those are the appropriate days for saying prayers of supplication. According to the Sephardic minhag (including Sephard-Chassidi), based on the Ari, they are recited every time there is Nefillat Apayim.
The recital of the Thirteen Attributes is considered a matter of sanctity and therefore necessitates a minyan. One who prays individually is not permitted to recite them; however, he is allowed to read them with cantillation signs as one reading the Torah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 565:5; Mishnah Berurah 12). Whoever has not yet succeeded in finishing "Kel erech apayim" before the congregation reaches the Thirteen Attributes must stop and join in with the congregation. As long as the congregation has not yet finished reciting the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, he may still join them. However, if they have already finished, he is considered to be reciting them as an individual (Ben Ish Chai, Ki Tisa 4).

6.The Passages of Supplication and Nefillat Apayim
It is proper not to interrupt by talking between Shemoneh Esrei and Tachanun, because when the recital of the prayers of supplication is linked to Shemoneh Esrei, the prayers are more favorably accepted (Shulchan Aruch 131:1; Mishnah Berurah 1).
Concerning the nusach of Tachanun, there are differences between the various ethnic groups. The reason for this is that when most Jews lived in Israel or in Babylon, each person would recite prayers of supplication in his own tongue. Only later on, in the time of the Rishonim, when the exiles dispersed, certain set wordings took shape. Additionally, approximately four hundred years ago, some changes were made in Nusach Sephard, based on Kavanot HaAri.
According to Kavanot HaAri, it is customary to recite Vidui (confession) and the Thirteen Attributes of mercy before the Psalm of Nefillat Apayim, so that after achieving atonement from the recital of Vidui and the Thirteen Attributes, one arrives at the pinnacle of these prayers, Nefillat Apayim (Kaf HaChaim 131:5). According to the Ashkenazic and Yemenite (Baladi) minhag, we open with Vidui and the Thirteen Attributes only on Mondays and Thursdays, the days when we recite numerous prayers of supplication. However, on the remaining days, we say Nefillat Apayim immediately following the Amidah, because it is best to adjoin Nefillat Apayim to the Amidah as much as possible.
In Nefillat Apayim, according to the Sephardic Nusach, Psalm 25 is recited, whereas those who follow Nusach Ashkenaz and Sephard-Chassidi say Psalm 6.
On Mondays and Thursdays, additional prayers of supplication are recited, since those days are days of Divine grace when prayer is more graciously accepted. They are said while standing (Shulchan Aruch and Rama 134:1). The prayer "V’Hu Rachum" was compiled by three elders exiled from Jerusalem, as explained in the writings of the Rishonim (Abudraham, Ra’avan, Manhig, Kolbo 18). Distinctions in wording between the various customs are slight, except that the Sephardim add more prayers of supplication before it and the Ashkenazim add prayers of supplication after it.
Another difference is that in Nusach Sephard the additional prayers of supplication of Mondays and Thursdays are recited after Nefillat Apayim, whereas in Nusach Ashkenaz they are recited before Nefillat Apayim.
A person who practices according to one nusach and prays in a place in which most people are praying in another nusach is permitted to pray as he wishes. If he decides to follow his own custom, he should not make his different minhag noticeable. If the chazan is reciting the Thirteen Attributes, even one who does not have the custom to recite them must join the congregation. Someone reciting a longer nusach when the chazan starts saying Kaddish, must stop his prayers of supplication, respond to Kaddish, and continue on to the next stage of the prayer service. The reason for this is that the exact wording of the prayers of supplication does not prevent a person from fulfilling his obligation, and anyone who recited even a few prayers of supplication has already fulfilled his obligation. If he so desires, he may finish the prayers of supplication after the prayer service. 7

^ 7.See earlier in this book in the laws of the wordings and the customs of the different ethnic groups, 6:5. The Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:34 advises that one who is accustomed to saying Vidui but prays in a place in which it is not said, says it without beating his chest, so that it will not be noticeable. In a place where people praying with different wordings (nusachim) pray together, it is best they follow the custom of the chazan. Nevertheless, those who wish to say Vidui are permitted to beat their chest, for there is no concern of "Lo Titgodedu" (fragmenting the nation into divergent groups with different practices) or causing dissension, because everyone knows that concerning Vidui there are various customs. However, one must calculate the time in such a way that he will succeed in finishing Nefillat Apayim before Kaddish, because after Kaddish, he will have to continue on to say Ashrei with the congregation.
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