Magical Merciful Tour

Image: Sunlight streaming through clouds. (Unsplash/Pixabay)

Every High Holy Days, we recite the words from Parashat Ki Tisa:

Adonai, Adonai, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and pardoning. – Exodus 34:6-7

Known as the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy,  our ancestors believed that by  repeating this passage, the congregation would convince God to indeed be merciful. (RH 17b). Such a “magical formula” is offensive to modern Jews. Surely we cannot manipulate God by reciting a charm!

Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (17th c) argues in Shene Lukḥot haBerit that, rather than recite the Thirteen Attributes as they have come down to us, we should not be reciting, but acting upon the words:  “Ya’asu lifne b’seder hazeh”  “let them do before me in this order.” In other words, there is no magic formula. Our deeds bring God’s mercy into the world when we ourselves behave mercifully. 


Therefore it is up to us to strive daily to be “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, pardoning.” This is a tall order indeed, but we are human beings created in the image of God, living in covenant with God. We can bring forgiveness into the world for others and for ourselves by our actions.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Hamaqom | The Place in Berkeley, CA.

3 thoughts on “Magical Merciful Tour”

  1. Rabbi Adar:
    The Pingback above is to the website of a Messianic/Jews for Jesus group.

    I’m wondering if you really want it on your blog?


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