After the Golden Calf debacle, Moshe sought to open a path for the Jewish people to attain G d’s forgiveness. To this end, G d revealed to Moshe the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy, opening a pathway for all future generations to achieve atonement and healing:
And the G-d passed before him and proclaimed: “G-d, G-d, benevolent G d, Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, preserving lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, rebellion and sin, and He cleanses . . .” (Shemot 34:6–7).
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 17b) states that Rabbi Yochanan taught: “If it would not be expressly stated in the Torah, it would be sacrilegious for us to think it. G-d wrapped Himself in a (Tallit) prayer shawl like a cantor, and showed Moses how to pray. He told him, ‘Whenever Israel sins, they should pray before me in this fashion and I will forgive them.”
Thirteen deep values and attributes of mercy in which the Almighty envelopes Himself. Thirteen attributes which we can tap into and pray to G-d guaranteeing results.
Yet we are left with a question as to why “an abundance of truth” is considered one of the attributes of mercy?
Compassion, graciousness and kindness seem par for the course; but truth?
Truth is a severe and honest judge, unwilling to overlook misdeeds and transgressions. How does that fit in with being merciful? Surely truth contradicts mercy and repentance? Furthermore what is the idea of R Yochanan teaching that G-d wrapped Himself in a Tallit?
Let me share with you a fascinating true story.
A few years ago there was a young lady called Sarah that applied for a popular job in a factory in Israel. The girl arrived and was welcomed through to the interview waiting room where she found herself amongst another three candidates. One by one they were called and entered the intimidating interview room. She was to be the last interview of the day.
Whilst waiting for her turn she started a conversation with an older looking lady.
The older lady explained how unfortunately her husband had passed away suddenly and she had four young children at home and she was looking for a job to secure their future. She was so excited that this opportunity and was sure she had what it took to perform. They spoke together for about 20 minutes and then the older lady entered the interview. The wait was daunting but eventually Sarah went through.
Although her interview seemed forever, the interviewees which included the owner of the factory were so impressed by Sarah’s capabilities that they decided to offer her the job on the spot.
What happened next seemed unreal.
Sarah explained that she was overwhelmed by their decision and thanked them for their time, but unfortunately she had to decline the offer.
“How can you decline? Why did you come here if you didn’t want to accept the job?” Asked the shocked owner.
Sarah explained how she had sat in the room and conversed with the previous lady.
“Having met this previous lady and knowing her circumstances I know she is the best person for this job. She seemed just as capable if not more, plus she needs the job more urgently than I do. With that I thank you for your time.” She said as she swiftly left the room.
Everyone there was flabbergasted. They had never experienced such anything like this in before.
They were left with no alternative but to accept the ‘second best’ candidate which they all agreed was the other lady.
That night the owner of the factory returned home and explained to his wife what a crazy day it had been.
“Can you believe that we finally found the right person and made her a fantastic offer she couldn’t refuse? Only for her to immediately tell us that she was no longer interested! That’s just not normal!” exclaimed the owner.
His wife looked on in amazement and with her wise intuition she asked for the girl’s number.
“Why do you want her number she specifically said no to the job?” said the owner.
His wife replied “leave it to me.”
The next day the wife called up Sarah who was surprised to receive the call.
“I understand that you let go of an amazing opportunity yesterday. I am not calling you for the job; rather I wanted to ask you if you are dating anyone at the moment.”
Sarah was stunned.
She replied that although she was beginning to go out with intention of marriage she was not dating anyone at that moment.
“You see replied the owners wife, we have only one son, he is very special, kind hearted and unique. When I heard of the great kindness that you showed yesterday I thought perhaps you would be ideal together.”
Sarah sat quietly on the phone for a few seconds and then agreed in principle to go out subject to more referencing.
A week later they went out on their first date and two months later they were engaged.
Sarah went to apply to be a worker at the factory, and through her selflessness and act of kindness ended up being the owner of the factory.
At times we think we are giving and therefore losing, however G-d sees everything and all is noted in the book of memory, no good deed goes unattended for, and immense reward awaits those who act kind.
R Yochanan taught that in order for the prayer mentioning the Thirteen Attributes to work, there needs to be some action. When we beseech G-d to be merciful, we too need to be merciful. We need to act, like G-d acted so to speak by putting on the Tallit.
The Jewish soul runs deep. There are times in the year that we sin, but there is always a glowing soul that shines and breathes deep under the darkness of sin.
The Hebrew word for sin, Chet, actually means “to miss the mark, to be deficient.”
Essentially we are not wrongdoers; we are simply falling short of our potential. The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and the intertwined concept of Teshuva, properly translated as a “return” to one’s real self, are the road that reconnect us to our potential, our truest self. This potential remains whole and unaffected by whatever temporary detour we have taken.
By acting in certain ways that manifest G-d’s attributes we invoke these attributes and reconnect to G-d. The darkness above our Holy soul is polished away and the existing glow is able to shine through.