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Book Review: In His Mercy: Understanding the Thirteen Midot
By Jay Levinson
In His Mercy: Understanding the Thirteen Midot
by Ezra Bick
Jerusalem: Maggid Books and Yeshivat Har Etzion (2011/5771)
Ezra Bick, a Yeshiva University graduate now teaching at Jerusalem’s
Har Etzion Yeshiva, has written a fascinating analysis of the
Thirteen Attribures י"ג
making all of us stop and think what they mean as we recite the
prayers leading up to Yom Kippur.
to Bick’s analysis, Selichot
after the Afternoon Service,
Bick postulates that the next paragraphs of Selichot
are akin to the first three blessing of the Amidah.
The Thirteen Attributes follow the thirteen middle blessings of the
Then come the final paragraphs of Selichot,
parallel with the end of the Amidah..
are different ideas amongst classical commentators as to how to count
the Thirteen Attributes. Bick prefers the opinion of Rabbeinu
counting each of the first two words as a separate attribute. One
relates to the Al-mighty before man has sinned; the other has to do
after sin (also per Rashi).
very exacting and philosophic language the author cites a wide range
of traditional sources, from the Bible and the Talmud to Rav
Soleveitchik and Rav Hutner, to support his interpretations.
ideas raised are often unique. For example, what does it mean,
Chesed La’alafim (Preserves
Kindness for Thousands of Generations)? According to Bick, it is not
that we rely upon the righteousness of the Patriarchs for our sins to
be forgiven. A very unique interpretation is given, “…we
must understand and commit ourselves to join the generational chain,
to sense that we continue the project begun by our patriarchs.”
It is not that we invoke the virtues of past generations to protect
us; rather, we commit ourselves to following in the ways of the
Thirteen Attributes do not give us a free ride to ridding ourselves
of sin. In no way can we merely recite them and assume that all is
forgiven. “Atonement … demands sincere repentance and
removes the stain [of sin] entirely. We must repent.” As Bick
clearly explains in quite direct terms regarding atonement, “…the
Divine Attibutes of Mercy are not predicated upon teshuva.
is a goal of Divine Mercy, not a prerequisite. The Attributes of
Mercy enable existence … so that teshuva
can eventually be achieved.” What is “Erech
In simple language, the Al-mighty in his mercy delays punishment for
our sins, so that we can repent. He wants us to mend our ways and
come to true remorse for our misdeeds.
Al-mighty gives us every opportunity to repent. As odd as it might
seem, this is not a task that we can accomplish by ourselves. Without
Divine mercy we would be called to judgment and be punished
immediately for our sins. We need the His mercy to help us repent. In
the final analysis, however, the challenge is ours to take advantage
of His will and mercy, and repent!
Thirteen Attributes culminate in V’Nakeh
cleanses),” which can more or less summarize Bick’s
philosophical ideas. As noted, “The Attributes of Mercy allow
the world to exist despite
the occurrence of sin” so that we can return to the ways of the
book is recommended to those with a strong philosophical bent and who
are interested in getting a better grasp of a serious prayer that we
all too often take for granted. The book is not meant for perusing
quickly. It must be ready carefully, allowing thoughtful
consideration of the many points raised.
reviewer can honestly say that the book
contributed significantly to understanding this year’s Selichos
from the September 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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