Parshas Ki Sisa

The Power Of 13!

“Hashem passed before him [Moshe], and proclaimed: “Hashem, Hashem, Almighty, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness and truth.” (Shmos 34:6)

There is an old joke about an ocean liner filled with passengers. The boat started to sink. One of the passengers prayed to G-D to save him. G-D responded, “Do you know how long it took Me to get all of these passengers on this boat?” G-D brought all these passengers together to this boat because they all deserved to be punished.

Moshe Rabbeinu davened to Hashem to forgive Bnei Yisroel for participating in the sin of the Golden Calf (Some commentators say that the only ones who sinned were the erev rav, the mixed multitude of other nations, who joined the Jewish people when they left Egypt. Others say that it was only 3,000 Jews; only 1 in 1,000 sinned. The sin of the rest of the Jewish People was that they did not stop what was happening). Hashem forgave the Jews. Moshe realized that this was a time of goodwill between Hashem and Bnei Yisroel. Therefore, Moshe took the opportunity and asked Hashem, “Please grant me a vision of Your Glory.”  (Shmos 33:18)

Hashem answered in the affirmative. Rashi (33:19) explains Hashem responded that the time had arrived for Moshe to see some of Hashem’s Glory. So, Hashem taught Moshe the 13 Attributes of Hashem’s Mercy, a prayer asking Him for mercy. Until that time, one would pray and ask Hashem for mercy in the merit of our avos, our forefathers. Even if the merits of the avos would become exhausted, Hashem would listen to the prayer of the 13 Attributes of Mercy.  

Two of the Attributes of Mercy are that Hashem is “Abundant in Kindness and in Truth” (34:6). What is the meaning of these traits? Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein zt”l says in sefer Torah Temima that “Truth” is that Hashem is exacting in judgement. His trait of “Kindness” is when Hashem sees that strict judgement is too difficult, Hashem lessens it by going beyond the letter of the law and incorporating the trait of “Kindness”.

The Da’as Zekanim says, “and Abundant in Goodness” means that Hashem tips the scales so that the merits prevail if a person’s merits and demerits are equally balanced.

Rabbeinu Bachya compares it to a king. There are situations in which a king must exert his full authority and employ the harshest measures of justice.  On the other hand, there are situations when a king should not insist on the application of absolute justice, but should temper justice with mercy. This is what King Shlomo said,” (Proverbs 20:28) “Mercy and truth preserve the king; he upholds his throne by loving kindness.” A judicious application of these two attributes ensures the stability of the king’s throne.

The Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik zt”l, goes a step further in explaining the connection of “truth” to mercy. A judge of flesh and blood is only concerned with the evidence that is presented. Did the evidence prove the guilt of the defendant, or did it prove his innocence? On the other hand, Hashem judges differently. It is not only the evidence against the accused that is taken into consideration. It is also how the verdict would affect the defendant’s loved ones. How would a guilty verdict negatively impact the defendant’s wife, his children, his parents, or even his friends? Hashem takes this all into account and adjusts the sentence accordingly.  If the sentence is carried out in a way which does negatively affect others, causing them suffering, that is only because, on some level, they are also guilty and deserving of pain, albeit to a lesser degree. If they are totally innocent, then the defendant would be punished less severely, so as not to cause them undo suffering.  This is Hashem’s attribute of “Truth”. Hashem takes into account, all the ramifications of the sentence. The sentence is then fine-tuned to fit exactly the degree of guilt of each affected person.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 108B) says that the Mabul, the Flood in the time of Noach, was delayed for 7 days. Hashem did not want to interrupt the 7 days of mourning for the tzadik, Mesushelach, who had just passed away. Rabbi Eliezer Shach zt”l points out that all the inhabitants of the world were about to be punished severely for their terrible behavior. Yet, the punishment was put on a temporary hold to afford Mesushelach the proper respect. The massive Divine decree was temporarily halted to do justice to Mesushelach. This illustrates the attribute of Truth and justice being tempered by kindness.


Hashem is ever so loving!

Even when punishing a sinner, Hashem takes into consideration

all the people who will be affected by the sinner’s punishment.

If they don’t deserve to feel pain,

then Hashem will lessen the punishment of the sinner.


(based on a dvar Torah in Sefer Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin)