Remember that refrain at the end of the Yom Kippur service that everyone enjoys chanting along with the cantor? As the fast draws to a close we describe at length G‑d's quality of mercy and at the end of each paragraph we chant in unison:

Hashem, Hashem, keil rachum vechanun, erech apaim, rav chesed v'emet, notzer chesed la'alafim, nosei avon vapesha, vechata'a venakei.

"G‑d, G‑d, who is merciful, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in loving kindness and true, preserving kindness for two thousand generations, forgiving sin, rebellion and error, who absolves" (Exodus 34:6-7)

As kids we always said, "Sorry is not good enough"This, one of the most evocatively moving pieces of our liturgy, is a quote from this week's Torah reading. After the Jews had sinned by serving the golden calf, Moses headed back up the mountain to beg for G‑d's forgiveness. G‑d had been threatening to destroy all His folk and start all over until Moses persuaded Him to give us another chance.

After G‑d's anger dissipated somewhat, Moses seized the opportunity to beg G‑d to reveal Himself in all His glory. Moses' wish was refused, since no human can possibly survive the experience of such intense spirituality. Instead, G‑d offered a compromise; He would show Moses a non-direct, lesser image of His glory. This vision of G‑dliness is metaphorically described in the Torah and attendant commentaries as "a view of G‑d's back, clad in tallit and tefillin."

Moses instinctive response to this vision splendour was to proclaim the phrases cited above, known as "The Thirteen Articles of Mercy," which are uniquely calibrated to arouse G‑d's mercy and forgiveness.

Repairing Knots

Ever felt yourself the victim of an insincere apology? As kids we always said, "Sorry is not good enough." If someone has injured me intentionally, how would an apology—mere words— make me feel better, and what would my "forgiveness" accomplish?

But what if you were convinced that the insult was unintentional, that the offending party was sincerely regretful over the damage caused, and that they'd taken steps to ensure that it would never happen again; would that be enough to assuage the indignation? Not only would this lead to genuine forgiveness on your part, but often the process of repairing the damage leaves the subsequent relationship in a stronger position than before the rift; much like a repaired rope where the two ends bound together are now thicker and stronger than the original rope.

Control Yourself

Every single one of us sincerely wishes to do the right thing. No sane person deliberately tries to hurt another person, and the same is true about our relationship with G‑d. Unfortunately, whether due to forgetfulness or mischance, we all occasionally slip up and do things that we subsequently regret.

OK. I'm sorry. It is my sincere intention never to do it again. But how can I guarantee that I live up to my good resolutions?

The safest way to prevent these embarrassments is to prepare for oneself some sort of subtle reminder of one's new pledge. Resolve to count to 10 before getting angry; tie a knot in a hanky; do whatever it takes to ensure that you don't lose control. Sincere regret can change the past, and purpose and commitment can guarantee the future.

G‑d's prayer

Perhaps this is the meaning of Moses' vision. By showing him a representation of Himself adorned with tallit and tefillin, G‑d was delivering a dual message. He was saying to Moses: As you proclaim these verses and express your belief in My capacity to forgive, (a) the tzitzit strings will remind you of your responsibilities and regrets over the past (as per Numbers 15:40: "Look at the [fringes on the tallit] and remember all the mitzvot of G‑d"); and (b) Concentrate on the knot of the tefilin and use it as a memory cue to remind yourself of your commitments for the future.

Ask for mercy, commit to these principles, and G‑d guarantees forgiveness.