Sunday, September 25, 2011

Adventures in Semantics: The Thirteen Attributes of Hashem's Mercy

On motzei Shabbos, Ashkenazim (and Chabad) began their series of the penitential prayers known as selichot. Sephardim started saying slichot at the beginning of this month, Elul. As Rosh HaShanah starts on Wednesday night, try to make the effort to rise early and go to synagogue so that you can recite slichot with the congregation. It's only three more days, so it won't kill you. Even I, she of the all-night insomnia, am going to try to be on my best behavior and wake up on time this week.

The Thirteen Attributes are the centerpiece of slichot, so let's learn something about them. Every time I see the Thirteen Attributes, I think to myself, "There are not 13 things in here." Then I would promptly forget my question. But this time, I remembered!

First, the text:
Merciful God, merciful God, powerful God, 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/Shmot 34:6-7

From that, how do we get 13 attributes (in Cliffsnotes form)? 
  1. Hashem is merciful before we sin.
  2. Hashem is merciful after we sin.
  3. Powerful
  4. Compassionate
  5. Gracious
  6. Slow to anger
  7. Abundant in chesed/loving-kindness
  8. Truth
  9. Merciful
  10. Forgiving iniquity
  11. Forgiving transgression
  12. Forgiving even willful sin
  13. Pardoning
Shana tova! K'siva v'chasima tova!


  1. Thank you for simply and succinctly reminding us of Hashem's mercy!

    Wishing you l'shanah tovah v'chatimah tovah and best of luck on your journey.

    This Good Life