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MERCY IN THE BANK

by Rabbi Mendle Dickstein    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Hashem, Hashem, G-d, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Willful Sin, and Error, and Who Cleanses" (Exodus 34:6-7).

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Hashem, Hashem, G-d, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Willful Sin, and Error, and Who Cleanses" (Exodus 34:6-7).

Following Hashem's promise not to destroy the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses requested that Hashem make known to him the qualities of divine mercy. In response, Hashem showed Moses a vision in which He was wrapped in a talit as shaliach tzibbur (the person leading a prayer service) while reciting the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy (Talmud Tractate Rosh Hashanah 17b). Hashem informed Moses that whenever the Jewish people sin in the future, they should recite these Thirteen Attributes and thereby invoke Hashem's mercy.

The Brisker Rav, a major leader of world Jewry at the beginning of the century, explains that during the final two sets of forty days which Moses spent on Mt. Sinai, all of the mercy that the Jewish people would require until the final redemption was deposited into an account to be withdrawn in future generations when necessary. Today we are without the Holy Temple, without a Kohen Gadol (high priest), without the karbanot (offerings) to aid in atoning for our sins. All that is left is our ability to invoke these Thirteen Attributes in our prayers. Though we do not understand the true nature of these Attributes and we lack the perception of how they affect the heavenly realms, they still remain the key with which to open the gates of mercy in every generation, for both the community and the individual.

There are two basic opinions as to how these Thirteen Attributes work. According to one opinion, mere recitation is not enough. We must accompany their recitation with action by demonstrating that we have incorporated these attributes into our own relationships with our fellow man. The prophetic vision of Hashem wrapped in a talit alludes to this need to emulate the Attributes by reminding us of our obligation to perform the mitzvot. The talit hints to the fact that one must clothe himself in the Attributes and not merely recite them.

A second opinion considers the recitation of the Thirteen Attributes as being effective by itself. How, we may ask, can the mere recital of these words be effective, and if it somehow can, how can we reconcile this to the fact that the Attributes are often recited without any noticeable result? The Maharal of Prague, one of the greatest Torah thinkers of the 16th century, answers the first question: Even if the recitation is sufficient, it certainly must be with kavanah -- concentration, intention, and understanding. This is hinted to by the wrapping of the talit over one's head. The talit signifies deep concentration and the banishment of outside thoughts and distractions from one's mind.

Although Hashem promises that the recitation of these Attributes is always effective, this depends according to the first opinion on our emulation of these Attributes, and according to the second opinion on their being said with the proper kavanah. Furthermore, sometimes their recitation results only in the mitigation of the divine decree, not in its complete annulment. That is why we sometimes fail to see their favorable effect.

These are difficult times for the Jewish people, times in which we need divine mercy. Let us attempt to recite, learn, and emulate these Divine Attributes of Mercy, and thereby fulfill all of these various opinions. In that way, we may partake of the abundant wellsprings of divine mercy which are already prepared for us and effect a period of favor and grace.

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Rabbi Mendle Dickstein writes from Atlanta.

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