Ki Sisa 2

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Performing the Attributes of Mercy

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


In this weeks portion the Jewish people commit the grievous sin of worshipping the golden calf.

After the sin is committed there is a feeling of despair. After such betrayal of G-d how would it even be conceivable for them to seek G-ds forgiveness? 

After the sin, Moshe spent an additional forty days on the mountain beseeching G-d to forgive the Jewish people. 

After G-d granted forgiveness to the Jewish people, Moshe was to come down a second time from Mount Sinai with the tablets in his hands. After Moshe had carved out the second tablets (unlike the first tablets, which were made directly by G-d), G-d told Moshe that whenever the Children of Israel sin they should perform thirteen attributes of mercy before G-d and He will forgive them (Rosh Hashanah 17b).

The thirteen attributes are listed in this weeks portion (Exodus 34:6-7). Let us focus on the first two, which are G-d, G-d. Why is G-ds name mentioned twice, and furthermore, what does it mean when G-d told Moshe to "perform" these attributes?

The Talmud states (ibid.) that the repetition of G-ds name is teaching us that just as G-d is merciful before one sins (the first mention of G-ds name), so too He is merciful after we have sinned (the second mention of His name).

This gives us a unique perspective on our relationship with G-d.

In reality true understanding of Gd defies human ability. G-d is perfect. Thus by definition He is unchanging.

Many times in Jewish writings human expressions are attributed to G-d.

RYoseph Albo writes in his Book of Principles (Sefer Haikrim) that human characteristics are attributed to G-d in order to help us understand Him.

G-d is constant. It is we who are changing. We either move closer or, G-d forbid, farther away from Him.  

But even if we have stumbled, G-d has compassion, and although we may have built barriers that intercede in our relationship with Him, we always have the ability to remove these barriers.

One of the ways to do this is to not only say the thirteen attributes (that in itself has an effect) but to perform them. Just as G-d is merciful and compassionate not only before we have sinned, but afterwards, does it not behoove us to act the same towards our friends and loved ones? To be more patient with those who do not meet our demands? To not only to give to them before we feel they have wronged us, but also afterwards? That is performing the attributes of mercy.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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