As we approach the awesome day of Yom Kippur, I want to share a thought that I came across in a very sweet book by Rabbi Ezra Bick about the 13 Attributes of Compassion. (“In His Mercy: Understanding the Thirteen Midot–I recommend it!)
The 13 attributes are based in the verses from Exodus (35:4-10) when Gd reveals Gdself to Moses on Mount Sinai, after the sin of the Golden Calf. Our Tradition builds a ritual out of reciting these verses as a request for mercy and compassion, and this is the core of the selichot prayers that many have been saying during these Days of Awe.
There is much discussion about each of the 13 attributes, how to count them, and what they all represent.
I want to share one powerful and sweet idea from the beginning of the list, in the name of Rav Hutner z”l.
The simplest way of counting the 13 attributes has the name of Gd (Hashem, YKVK, Lord) repeated twice as the opening. Why twice? An answer that is offered by the Talmud suggests that the first is before sin and the second is after. In otherwords, Gd remains unchanged in the steadfast love that flows into the world, despite the behavior of the individuals. Rav Bick points out that this is a very sweet idea, but should be the same for each of the 13 attributes–what is unique about this particular Name of Gd?
Without taking us far afield (a discussion for another day), this particular name of Gd is the explicit name which is a word play on the Hebrew in past, present and future tenses of “to be” (hayah, hoveh, yihyeh). This is the Name that infuses the world with Life-Force at all times. So why this name twice?
Here is the amazing idea:
In order for the Life Force to continue infusing the world with Divine Energy in a reality *after* sin, it includes an “acceptance” or even “approval” of the sin. In other words, the greatest Mercy that we see here is that the Source of All Life is not accepting, but even expecting the world to be a place of mistakes and failures. The continued infusion of life-force is based in a deep belief or trust that we will improve our behavior, and thus the world continues to exist.
On one level, there is incredible empowerment that each one of us is never given up on–Gd believes and is earnestly waiting for each of us to live up to our potential.
Another direction is that Gd is willing to continue having a world that has people that fall short of their potential. Oy! Do you hear?! So of course we can also continue to love and keep building despite when we fall short!
Sweet friends,
Blessings to you and your family for a meaningful Yom Kippur and the beginning of a fantastic year of growth, discovery, failures and successes!
Shana tova!
Gmar chatima tovah!