Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Tisa

Adonai! Adonai! 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 facilitates cleansing.” Exodus 34:6-7.

Moses came down the mountain and smashed the tablets with the first set of “10 Commandments.” He berated the people. He had just taken God to task for God’s failure to think through the divine anger that was about to blaze forth against the people. Moses stood up to God “face to face-panim el panim.” The people were unappreciative. It was God’s turn to straighten Moses out. In essence, God tells Moses that they would create a new set of the stone tablets and that God appreciated Moses’ concern for the well being of the people. God was concerned however, that having stood up to God, Moses would take his own wrath out on the people. Part of the prelude conversation to the second set of tables teaches Moses that mercy is always the better answer.

Tied into these two verses are the “13 Attributes of Mercy.” Each word demonstrates a commitment to look beyond the immediate struggle to find a long term healing response, and to find a way to use that right now. In the Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides argues that these attributes are not simply part of God, but intentional decisions made by God on what is and is not appropriate behavior. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 17b) tells us that in emulating God, in every case when we transgress each other, these teachings are to be our guide. These attributes are not words to be recited but attributes to be lived.

Here is the list (btw- we are studying these Tuesday morning at 9:45 in our library):

  1. YHVH: compassion before a person transgresses;
  2. YHVH: compassion after a person has transgressed;
  3. El: mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need;
  4. Rachum: merciful, that humankind may not be distressed;
  5. VeChanun: and gracious if humankind is already in distress;
  6. Erech appayim: slow to anger;
  7. VeRav chesed: and plenteous in kindness;
  8. VeEmet: and truth;
  9. Notzer chesed la-alafim: keeping kindness unto thousands;
  10. Noseh avon: forgiving iniquity;
  11. VaFeshah: and transgression;
  12. VeChata’ah: and sin;
  13. VeNakeh: and pardoning/cleansing.

I would add a 14th: Before you even decide whether or not someone transgressed, please remember: a. we only know what we think we know (there exists all sorts of information out there – about subjects that we believe ourselves to be experts – that we do not yet know); b. most disagreements happen because we get so entrenched in what we think we know that we lose our ability to listen and learn; and c. More times than not, where we default to calling someone a sinner, it roots in our lack of understanding his/her motivation/culture/background/ perspective.

Healing the world cannot happen through vanquishing another. Hate cannot drive out hate. Brandishing a sword gets met with a brandished sword. Even when a physical response is necessary, Torah still admonishes us to remember the well being of the trees and the innocent. If we want to change the noise around us, we have to exemplify better behavioral responses than what passes for discourse today. We must always first remember that we are imperfect human beings – We need each other’s help to become whole. Shabbat Shalom.