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A weekly column examining Hebrew words in the Torah portion

by Michael Gros
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer



"You mother and I have decided that it's time for you to move out," the conservative tycoon said to his flamboyant, playboy son. "We think it will be good for your personal growth and maturity."

"But how will I survive out on the street?"

"Don't worry, I'll still put money into your bank account. You can still have your Lamborghini. And just in case you have a problem and need my help, here's the secret code to the alarm on the front door."

After God took the Jews out of Egypt, He gave them the tools they would need to survive in Israel. He gave them the Torah to direct them, and the commandments to guide their ways. If they found themselves in a difficult situation and needed to appeal to Him for his mercy, God in this week's Torah portion gave them the thirteen attributes.

The thirteen attributes describe God's personality: He is a doer of good, a forgiver of sins, etc. We read the thirteen attributes on fast days, Yom Kippur, and other days when we need His forgiveness and kindness.

We also read the thirteen attributes throughout the year to learn to emulate the ways of God. By reminding ourselves of His benevolent traits, we can try to internalize them and act in His ways. We can learn to do this most effectively by looking closely at three of the attributes, as explained by Rabbi Raphael Samson Hirsch, the 19th century leader of German Jewry.

Rabbi Hirsch, explains that the fourth attribute, 'Rachum,' which means compassion, describes God as a compassionate caregiver. Rachum comes from the word 'Rechem', meaning "Mother's womb." Just as a mother showers unconditional love onto her children, God does the same for His creatures, and it is our mission to follow suit.

The seventh attribute is 'Rav Chesed, which means abundant in kindness. Rabbi Hirsch says that this refers to God, who is committed to giving satisfaction and happiness to any of His creatures. 'Chesed' means love, complete devotion to another, and is related to 'Chased,' meaning a complete surrender. It is easy to tell a person who emulates this trait - a person who surrenders his or her entire self to doing good for others.

The ninth attribute is 'Notzer Chesed L'Alafim,' which means preserver of kindness for thousands of generations. Rabbi Hirsch points out that Notzer relates to 'Netzer,' meaning a flower bud. Chesed here either refers to the kindness that a human does for others, or to the love and compassion that God showers on us.

Notzer chesed can therefore mean one of two things: 1. The good deeds that a person does become 'buds' of blessings for his or her descendents, so that God rewards our children and grandchildren for the good that we do, or 2. The love that God showers on a person becomes a bud of blessing for future generations. God allows a good person "to become a source, a root and a 'bud' of salvation and happiness to his children and grandchildren."

On a simple level, God gave us the thirteen attributes to allow us to appeal for His mercy in a time of need. On a deeper level, God is telling us that if we internalize His attributes and become doers of kindness, God will reward us by permitting us to return to His palace.


This column is dedicated in memory of Dan Miller.

Michael Gros, an alumnus of Emory University, writes from Israel, where he learns at Yeshiva Marbeh Torah.

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