The Thirteen Attributes 


Many of the thoughts presented in this dvar Torah have been written by R’ Yirmiyahu Kaganoff; I have liberally added many thoughts of my own as well:


Question: How many times in the last month have you recited the Thirteen Attributes of Hashem? Answer: A lot! For those not familiar, these are the Thirteen Attributes (Exodus 34:6-7):


“Hashem (1), Hashem (2), G-d (3); compassionate (4) and gracious (5); slow to anger (6) and abundant in kindness (7) and truth (8); preserver of kindness for thousands [of generations] (9); forgiver of iniquity (10), willful sin (11), and error (12); and Who cleanses (13).” 


We have chanted/read/said these 13 Middos: From the beginning of Selichos (at least four days before RoshHashanna) through Yom Kippur (many times during each service); in coded form during Tashlich; in the closing sentences of the haftarah of Shabbos Shuva; at the end of the Book of Yonah; as part of the Torah reading on Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos; and on the Succos Yom Tovim just prior to reading the Torah!


The Talmud tells us that: “The Torah teaches that Hashem wrapped Himself in a tallis like a chazzan and demonstrated to Moshe the order of prayer. Hashem told Moshe: 'Whenever the Jews sin, they should perform (lit. ‘do’ – ya’asu) this order and I will forgive them!"' [Rosh Hashanah 17b]. So, although it is a gezairas hakasuv (i.e. an edict of the Torah) that ‘performing’ these Attributes will act as an antidote, so to speak, against our aveiros and will elicit forgiveness from Hashem, we still are motivated to ask this question: How is it that the repetition of these Thirteen Attributes of Mercy will effect a transition from fault to forgiveness? Are we looking at a magic mantra that will automatically and mystically afford us grace – or is there something else that is developing with our repetition of this heartfelt prayer?


Maimonides zt”l writes in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah [1:9-11] that these thirteen attributes of Hashem's mercy is a way for us to appreciate more fully what Hashem does and has done for us – and therefore help us to fulfill one of the most important mitzvos of the Torah; vis. to emulate Hashem (v’halachta b’drachav, Deuteronomy 28:9). In The Concise Book of Mitzvos, the Chofetz Chaim zt”l tells us [mitzva #6] that, “Just as the Holy One, blessed is he, is called gracious, you should also be gracious; and just as the Holy One, blessed is He, is called compassionate, you should also be compassionate; and just as the Holy One , blessed is He, is kind, you should also be kind.”


So, here is our key to the power of ‘saying over’ the Thirteen Attributes: Reciting them is the first step towards making ourselves merciful people who emulate Hashem's ways. ‘Ya’asu means learning to internalize these attributes by doing them, and thereby making ourselves G-dly people. ‘Doing’ the thirteen attributes means not only understanding the incredible amount of tolerance that Hashem manifests towards us, but also includes realizing how accepting we must be of all people… even when it’s difficult. Let’s try hard to make this our New Year’s resolution, whenever we can ‘do’ it.


Process vs. Product 


The following essay was written by Ms. Chevi Garfinkel and originally appeared in the Succos newsletter.


In describing the festivities which took place during the days of Sukkos when the Beis Hamikdash stood, the Gemara (Sukkah48a) describes the process of drawing water from the Shiloach spring to be poured as a libation on the altar. As the Gemara details, the actual festivities which occurred surrounding this event took place in the Beis Hamikdash after the water was drawn and poured onto the Mizbeach. It was upon this special event of the water libation that all-night outbreaks of dancing, singing and rejoicing would occur, which lasted for all seven days of Sukkos.


This joyous event, says the Gemara, was known as the Simchas Beis Ha’Shoeva, and was in fact so spectacular a sight that “anyone who had never witnessed the joy present at such festivities had never witnessed true joy in his life” (ibid. 51a).  Throngs of people, even the greatest sages, broke out in unbridled joy and revelry. Music was played, torches were tossed into the air and acrobatic movements were performed, making for a delightful and exciting night.


Yet it seems odd: Why would this event be referred to as the Simchas Beis Ha’Shoeva (‘The Joy of the Water Drawing’) if the true rejoicing did not in fact take place when the water was drawn from the spring, but only later after arriving in the Beis Hamikdash and actually pouring the water? No music was played and no dancing or singing accompanied the drawing of the water. At that point in time, water was simply drawn and hauled back to the Beis Hamikdash. Wouldn’t it be more accurate then to call the event the Simchas Nisuach Ha’Mayim, i.e. ‘The Joy of the Pouring of the Water,’ after the point in time when the actual rejoicing occurred?


If you look around in today’s day and age, there is one thing which remarkably stands out: we are an incredibly result-oriented society. Success and accomplishment are measured by what one produces, and the effort expended in the process is often almost irrelevant. The finished product is what catches attention and calls for compliment, not necessarily the process involved to get there.


This matter of fact is not too hard to come by. Try it yourself:  For one day, jot down all the different compliments you hear given to you or anyone else. Then divide them into two categories: process and result. How many compliments were focused on the result and how many on the process? Even before conducting any research of your own, a cursory glance at the way our world runs would lead to a fair conclusion: the results.


Now, one may argue in defense and say that it is only fair to judge the product, for only what can be seen can be judged. The process is not always noticeable and is difficult to discern. I can see the cake or test score in front of me, but how am I supposed to know how much time and effort went into making the cake or studying for the test?


But even with this consideration, Judaism espouses an entirely different perspective. Anything produced in life requires process. If you wish to create something quantifiably meaningful and truly lasting, it necessitates effort. It is true that a fully baked cake displays product, but it also, albeit subtly, bespeaks process. And that is where the true accomplishment lies. We tend to feel that until we can produce the final product, we have failed.


When that is our perspective, though, it is no wonder why it is so difficult to attain happiness in life. If everything is gauged by what we produce fully ready and perfect, what about all that hard work which goes into processes that does not produce what we want? And what if the final product will only be completed after years and years of effort? Will we sit around in anticipation of when we can finally begin to enjoy our fruits of labor? So many areas in life take years until we can reap real benefit. The process of raising happy, healthy children can take decades of work. Will we only take pride in our children and enjoy nachas when they leave home and start a life of their own?


In Judaism, it is quite to the contrary. Happiness is the result of engaging in process, not solely attaining the results. In that respect, the definition of joy is completely different than that which we find in today’s world. For a Jew, the true joy of the Water Libation service rested not in its pouring on the altar, but in its drawing from the spring! It was there that effort and work was invested and the means to preparing for a monumental event was created. And that, indeed, is the source of true happiness. Therein lies the leverage which allows for our feet to be lifted off the ground and the whole other array of revelries to occur.


If there is any one message we can take away from the Simchas Beis Ha’Shoeva, it is this very point. Embrace and enjoy the process of life, the process of hard work and the process of challenge. It is from where we draw the strength to find true fulfillment and meaning in life. Because, indeed, even if the cake does not turn out as we wished and our test score bears a result other than we imagined – Nevertheless, we have achieved a level of success and have all the reason to be proud. For we have achieved something far more important than what ostensibly appears before us:  We have lived a life of doing our best, giving it our all and using our potential. And, without question, there is no greater joy than that.


The Elevated Arava


The following dvar Torah is also from newsletter and was written by Rabbi Aron Lankry. It is presented here with many emendations:


Our Sages (Vayikrah Rabbah 30:12) teach that the arba minim (four species) represent four types of Jews. Like the esrog (citron), which has both taste and a pleasant aroma, there are those Jews who possess both Torah knowledge and good deeds. However, the lulav (palm branch), which has taste but no smell, represents those Jews who have Torah knowledge but lack good deeds. Then there are Jews like the hadassim (myrtle branches), who have fragrance but no taste; they perform good deeds but are ignorant of Torah. And finally there are the aravos (willow branches), which have neither taste nor fragrance; they represent those Jews who have neither Torah knowledge nor good deeds.


Yet what does Hashem command us to do? Bind the four species together and thus achieve a level of protection and atonement for each other that we could not achieve on our own (ibid). When we are unified – whether we are knowledgeable in Torah with good deeds, or perhaps have only some or none of these traits – we join together and in unison elevate ourselves to new spiritual heights in a collective dedication to Hashem and to His Torah.


While you may be familiar with the above explanation relating to the waving of the Four Species, there is another custom performed on the last day of Succos (Hashanah Rabbah) – first enacted during the days of the Prophets (ibid., 44a) – which is less familiar. After waving the arba minim for the last time, we take up a new bundle of five aravos bound together and hold them aloft while we recite the final hoshanna prayers, asking Hashem for His protection, mercy and hashgacha throughout the coming New Year. While various reasons are offered in explaining the meaning behind this practice, here is a beautiful idea that emerges in consonance with the above Midrash.


We saw that the aravah represents the individual who lacks both Torah knowledge and good deeds. Yet, after an entire Yom Tov of Succos in which the aravah has been in the company of the lulav, esrog and hadassim, he/she becomes a different person, developing into someone with greater spiritual sensitivity and potential. The five aravos of Hoshanah Rabbah represent the previous arba minim used over Succos – together with a new creation, an additional entity representing the previously bereft aravah, now on an elevated spiritual plane. After the service, many place the aravah bundle above the Aron Kodesh, where it will remain until Pesach. The lowly aravah, who over Succos was ‘shaken up’, has come to realize his latent potential and now sees the world from a newly elevated perspective.