Parshas Ki Sisa - Parah
Forged With Love
Hashem passed before him and proclaimed..."(34:6)
After shattering the Tablets in reaction to witnessing Bnei Yisroel
worshipping the Golden Calf, Moshe prayed on their behalf and saved them
from destruction. Hashem then agreed to give Bnei Yisroel a second set of
Tablets. When Moshe ascended the mountain to receive these Tablets, Hashem
taught Moshe the text of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, a prayer which
invokes Hashem's mercy and reassures us that repentance is always possible.
The Talmud comments that this is a prayer to which there will always be a
response. The notion of reciting some magic formula and receiving expiation
appears uncharacteristic to the Jewish faith. Generally, atonement is
achieved by displaying remorse and fundamental change, not lip service. How
does the recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy function?
The Midrash states that Hashem offered the Torah to the nations of the world
prior to offering it to Bnei Yisroel.3 This implies that the Patriarchal
relationship which Bnei Yisroel enjoy is not a prerequisite to receiving the
Torah. Why then is it necessary to begin the Torah with Sefer Bereishis
which details the Patriarchal relationship, rather than with the Sinaitic
The verse states that Hashem passed before Moshe and proclaimed the Thirteen
Attributes. From this the Talmud derives that He wrapped Himself in a
tallis, like one who leads the congregation, and showed Moshe the order of
the prayers. Moshe was able to perceive the deepest mysteries of the
Torah without visual aids. Why was it necessary for Hashem to wrap Himself
in a tallis and go through all the motions of the prayer in order to teach
Moshe the text of the prayer?
The attributes conclude with the expression "nakei lo yenakeh". The
Midrashic interpretation offered by Rashi explains that the word "nakei" -
"absolves" is the last attribute, while "lo yenakeh" - "does not absolve" is
not a part of the Thirteen Attributes, but refers to those who do not
repent. The literal interpretation, states Rashi, is that "lo yenakeh" is
part of the last attribute, referring to the fact that Hashem does not
absolve a person from sin without any recourse; rather, He punishes in small
increments until the punishment is complete. Why would referencing Hashem's
mode of punishment be included in the Attributes of Mercy?
The Talmud states that the merits of a son can assist his father, but the
merits of a father do not assist his son; since the son is a product of his
father, he shares in his son's merits, whereas the father's actions do not
reflect upon his son in any way. Hence, the son does not share in his
father's merits. Why then did Moshe call upon Hashem to remember the Avos,
so as to protect Bnei Yisroel from annihilation?
The Mishna states that a love relationship which is dependent upon a
particular need will dissipate when the need ceases to exist, while
relationships which are independent of a particular need will endure. As an
example of a relationship which is independent of needs, the Mishna offers
the relationship between Dovid and Yonason. How can a person love another
for no reason? If no specific qualities were necessary to inspire Dovid's
love for Yonason, what made the relationship unique? Why did Dovid not
exhibit this love for everyone?
At its inception, the formation of every relationship is dependent upon a
need. Whether it is physical or emotional, this need allows the relationship
to flourish. What the Mishna is describing as a relationship which is
independent of needs is one which continues to develop until it transcends
into a union no longer requiring the initial need. A man might be initially
attracted to a woman because of her beauty, but if, after they are married,
she becomes disfigured, assuming the relationship has transformed and
transcended into a oneness which is no longer based upon the initial
attraction, his love for her will not diminish. Once forged into a new
entity the couple are inextricably bound; no force can separate them.
The entire Sefer Bereishis is a record of how our forefathers, who were
chosen by Hashem for their exemplary qualities, were able to transform their
relationship with Him into one that would endure even when they would no
longer exhibit these qualities. This enabled the Sinaitic covenant to be
forged as a relationship which would endure eternally, even at times when
Bnei Yisroel would not adhere to the precepts contained within the Torah.
The obligations that a father and son have to each other are not the basis
for their relationship, rather what binds the son to his father is the fact
that he is his son. Similarly, what binds Bnei Yisroel to Hashem is that
through the efforts of the Patriarchs we were elevated to the status of His
children. This became evident after the sin of the Golden Calf when Moshe
called upon Hashem to remember the efforts of the Patriarchs; their efforts
served as the underpinnings of Bnei Yisroel's relationship with Hashem.
Had the nations of the world accepted the Torah, their relationship with
Hashem would have been one based upon the mutual exchange of promises and
commitments, which would be subject to revocation in the case of either
party reneging upon those commitments.
Hashem sent Moshe a message that this prayer will never go unanswered. The
reason for this phenomenon is that it recalls the love and commitment which
Hashem has invested into His relationship with us. Hashem has bound Himself
to the Jewish people in a manner that cannot be revoked. Chazal strengthen
this notion by observing that the numeric value of the Hebrew word "echad" -
"one", is thirteen, the same as the number of Attributes. When Bnei Yisroel
understand that this is a relationship which has developed into an
inseparable entity, they too will channel all their energy into making it
Hashem appeared before Moshe wrapped in a tallis to emphasize His love for
Bnei Yisroel. Much the same way as a father's concern for his child's
welfare surpasses the child's concern for his own well-being, Hashem
revealed to Moshe that His concern for Bnei Yisroel transcends their own. He
too, figuratively prays for their well-being.
Accountability and culpability are integral components of every
relationship. If Hashem's love for us were only predicated upon His
benevolence and had nothing to do with our reciprocation and behavior, we
would be non-entities in this relationship. Hashem could maintain this
relationship with any of His creations. It is therefore imperative that we
be punished for our transgressions, for this shows us that we are
accountable and that our actions have meaning within then relationship.
Therefore, "nakei lo yenakeh" is the last attribute.
1.Rosh Hashana 17b
3.Rosh Hashana 17b