This week’s Sedra, Ki Tissa, has many dramatic elements - perhaps most famously the tragic story of the Golden Calf. When Moses comes down from Mount Sinai for the 1st time he is carrying the original Tablets that had the 10 ‘commandments’ carved into them by HaShem. Some of the people had miscalculated Moses’ 40 days and were concerned he was not coming back - and thus urged Aaron to make an idol. Aaron tried to stall these people demanding their jewelry, and when this was thrown into a fire it formed a golden calf.
As Moses descends Mount Sinai he is witness to some of the Nation dancing around the idol, and he smashes the Tablets in anger. In fact HaShem threatens to destroy the entire nation and to start again with Moses. Famously Moses begs for forgiveness and saves the nation. In our 5th Aliya (Exodus Ch 34 V6-7) we hear the prayer which saved the Jews.
“L-rd, L-rd, 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 pardons.”
This prayers calls upon the ‘13 attributes of mercy’ and should be familiar to us all as we repeat it again and again on Yom Kippur during Neila as we seek our own forgiveness both personally and also collectively as a nation.
It is comforting to know that these words, taught to Moses by G-d, and passed down since, can be invoked to save us from the depths of any misdeed if we genuinely choose to repent. Interestingly, the Sages teach us that G-d enwrapped Himself like the shaliach tzibbur [prayer leader] of a congregation and showed Moses this prayer. G-d taught Moses: ‘Whenever Israel sin, let them carry out this service before Me, and I will forgive them.’”
Our Sages comment that ‘carry out this service’ suggests that actions speak louder than words. These 13 attributes are at the heart of the repentance (T’Shuva) process - and hence why we repeat them over and over on Yom Kippur. G-d has set himself up as a role model for us to understand how to forgive one another. Just as G-d is merciful, so we too should we be merciful; just as He is kind, so too should we be kind. Just as He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, truthful, loving and forgiving - so should we act. These 13 attributes really are a model blueprint of behaviour for us all to emulate.