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True Mercy

True Mercy


After the Golden Calf debacle, Moses sought to open a path for the Jewish people to attain G‑d’s forgiveness. To this end, G‑d revealed to Moses the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy, opening a pathway for all future generations to achieve atonement and healing:

And the L‑rd passed before him and proclaimed: “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 cleanses . . .” (Exodus 34:6–7)

This raises an interesting question: why is “an abundance of truth” considered one of the attributes of mercy? Compassion, graciousness and kindness seem par for the course; but truth? Truth is a severe and honest judge, unwilling to overlook misdeeds and transgressions.

Our shortcomings and failures are true only superficiallyThe reality, however, is that our shortcomings and failures are true only superficially—for a moment in time, and only affecting an outer layer of self. The Hebrew word for sin, chet, actually means “to miss the mark, to be deficient.” Essentially we are not wrongdoers; we are simply falling short of our potential. The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and the intertwined concept of teshuvah, properly translated as a “return” to one’s real self, are the road that reconnect us to our potential, our truest self. This potential remains whole and unaffected by whatever temporary detour we have taken.

When we invoke these attributes, we connect to our relationship to the Source of all being, a relationship that is rooted deeper within us than any failure can reach. The greatest typhoon only roils the waters of the sea close to the surface, but the oceanic depths remain calm and untroubled. We have a place within our soul that is deeply connected to the Infinite, a place that the effects of our negative choices cannot reach. When we awaken this level of being, we find new reservoirs of strength to transform our lives.

We are fundamentally, essentially and truly G‑dly and positive. We can access that reality at any time we choose. And G‑d’s attribute of truth cuts away all the external layers and sees us for whom we truly are.

Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe is a frequent contributor of articles and media to, is Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law in New York, N.Y., and Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Torah in Springfield. Mass. Rabbi Yaffe has lectured and led seminars throughout North America, as well as in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
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Anonymous toronto August 7, 2014

Mercy Exile is a cruel punishment but the land spits out those who do not obey its laws. No Jew should disobey their true mission in the land. What happened to the forefathers should not take place again. Reply

Anonymous February 19, 2011

re: Anonymous, boise, idaho In Exodus 34:1–6, quoted here:

Chapter 34
1. And the Lord said to Moses: "Hew for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones. And I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

2. Be prepared for the morning, and in the morning you shall ascend Mount Sinai and stand before Me there on the top of the mountain.

3. No one shall ascend with you, neither shall anyone be seen anywhere on the mountain, neither shall the sheep and the cattle graze facing that mountain."

4. So he [Moses] hewed two stone tablets like the first ones, and Moses arose early in the morning and ascended Mount Sinai as the Lord had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand.

5. And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and He called out in the name of the Lord.

6. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed: Lord, Lord, benevolent God, Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth. Reply

Anonymous CARPINTERIA, CA February 18, 2011

ki tisa What really amazes me is how G-d is persuaded by Moshe to forgive Israel and does not destroy them completely but rather everyone would give an account separately. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma February 18, 2011

mercy In listening to words, there is an inevitable arrival. As within talliis, all is. As for mercy, the French mercy, meaning thank You.

To see the tallis as the River itself, as depicted by an artist, is to realize the deepest of truths lies within the metaphor itself, that all is One. This brings me to Our Shema and the depths of its meaning.

The agony & the ecstasy are one and the same. Reply

Anonymous boise, idaho February 15, 2011

where in Torah does it indicate G-d gave Moses the 13 attributes... which I thought were attributed to Maimonides? Reply

Anonymous miami February 15, 2011

thank you i never needed my chabad subscription as much as i do today. thank you so much for your two articles on failure. i really needed to read them, and feel some support. May Hashem be merciful and that this really is an elevation point for us at our time of our greatest descent. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma February 15, 2011

I love, therefore, I am: what is, truth? Truth is a relative term, in that one person's "truth" is clearly not another's. I can, for example, speak of my total knowledge of a G_d driven universe and Creator, apparent to me in all things, and for another, it's a source of mockery, or argument, and heated discussion or disdain.

I deeply believe that truth itself, has to do with a journey towards the ineffable, and that what we think we see, is not always, "correct', and that correction does occur along the trip, which can be arduous, filled with angst, and time in the desert.

Keats wrote that beauty IS truth. For me, this is the feeling aspect of truth. I see a deep and ongoing beauty, in nature, and in effect, all peoples. I can be so overwhelmed in autumn I hug the tree with the scarlet leaves, thinking about Moses, the burning bush. I see the deepening metaphoric connects.

To relate this is hard. So my truth is not another's. Can I? Do I dare tell the other he or she is wrong. That it takes a soul journey to arrive? Reply

Anonymous Mesa, Arizona, USA February 13, 2011

True Mercy I liked the lst four sentences: "When we awaken this level of being, we find new reservoirs of strength to transform our lives."
...The Source that awakens that level of being is that G-d of truth, who, even though some times most be "severe and judge, is also very compassionate, loving, and kind. The Giver of Freedom of Choice because of the love for his creation. Rabbi Yaffe, in my reality, you are a true remnant, your understanding is remarkable in my eyes. Reply

deb eisenberg hou, tx February 13, 2011

it's a wonderfully optimistic thought that our short falls only temporarily define us and can help us progress by marking this low point as our new starting point. Your message helps one to go forward from a paralyzing negativism. thank you for this upbeat and no excuse message. Reply

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