In light of our tragic situation in Israel, our loss of life, and the sustained absence of the Temple, it is both mandatory and vital to our national and individual existence that we reflect and consider God’s words and our Rabbis’ teachings. Those who ignore ‘why’ Israel is ours, and why God allows and causes our suffering, make inexcusably lethal errors, which doom Judaism and Jews to continued hardships.
Israel became our rightful possession, due exclusively to God’s promise to Abraham. And even that promise was due only to Abraham’s self-actualized conversion from an idolatrous life, to one where through his mind alone, he became convinced of the One, metaphysical God of heaven and Earth, and his own passion: to teach mankind the truth.
God desired mankind to gain from Abraham’s findings, and therefore He granted children and a land to Abraham: “For it is revealed before God, that Abraham [will] command his sons and his household after him, that they guard the path of God, performing charity and justice, in order that God bring upon Abraham that which He spoke of.” We learn that this promise, which God will bring on Abraham – i.e., children, and the land of Israel – is contingent on Abraham following the “path of God.” In other words, we will not have God’s land without God.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing this very threat to our land, in conjunction with a current Israeli state platform bereft of God and His Torah.
God deemed this lesson of Israel’s “contingent nature” so crucial, that He commanded our every doorpost to display this message in the form of mezuzahs. But instead of reading these text-based commands as God intended, Jews convert them into amulets…ironically performing the very sin that the mezuza warns will evict us from Israel, i.e., idolatry. And not only is the Shima in the mezuzah ignored, although posted everywhere, but the larger, more crucial body of Torah is not followed by a majority of Jews, even in Israel…God’s gift to us.
Jews desire the reward – Israel – without performing the essential condition of Torah adherence that earns this reward…and we wonder why we are in these straits. We know the answer, but are simply too proud to admit our error. This pride is killing us.
Over the centuries, God sent prophets and leaders to admonish us. Their words are readily available. If we would only take a few moments and realize the “falsehood in our right hand”, that we trust doctors with our bodies, but not the One more wise, with our lives and our souls.
During these Three Weeks and the imminent Tisha B’Av holiday, stop and consider the following lessons of God and the Rabbis.
Talmud Rosh Hashannah 17b examines the 13 Attributes of God taught to Moses as a means of securing Israel’s atonement. These attributes are located in Exodus 34:6,7: “God, God, the powerful, merciful and gracious, long suffering and great in kindness and truth, guarding kindness to thousands of generations, carrying sin, purposeful and accidental, and He pardons.”
The Talmud asks the meaning of the first two names “God, God”. It answers, “I am ‘God’ before man sins, and I am ‘God’ after man sins”. The Talmud asks what is meant by the next attributes of “powerful and merciful”. The answer given is, “I [God] have created a treaty with these 13 Attributes, that when recited, [the Children of Israel] will not be turned back empty-handed.” This means that God’s structure of these attributes assure a definite atonement for those who recite them. The question is this: how does the recitation of these attributes secure atonement?
Let us consider the first Talmudic quote, “I am ‘God’ before man sins, and I am ‘God’ after man sins”. The Talmud focuses our attention on a ‘contrast’ of man’s states: prior and subsequent to sin. And as with any contrast, its objective is to unveil a ‘transition’. The transition here is between man’s two states: 1) a follower of God, and 2) a sinner. And despite this transition, we are taught “God is our God…even after man sins”. Why must the Torah teach this? The answer is because we would think otherwise. This is the basis for all lessons: to redirect us from erroneous views, towards truths.
The erroneous view here, is that once we sin, God is no longer reachable…we feel we are “too far gone” that God should reenter our lives with His concern for us. Therefore, God teaches man otherwise: “I am your God…even after you sin”. In other words, “you have never gone too far”. This realization is indispensable for man’s repentance, and return to God. This very realization is atonement! Meaning, once man recognizes there is in fact a path back to God, then…this man is a different man, and worthy of atonement. For with this realization, in some degree, he already removes his hands from sin, as man’s inclination is always to do the good for himself. Once he is taught by God’s words that he has not gone too far, and he can return, his attachment to sin is weakened, and God need not punish him any further, since his realization obviates the need for any further correction. God’s punishments target man’s return to the right life, but this man has already started back on that right path. Therefore, he is atoned, and God’s punishments are no longer necessary.
The Talmud continues, “I [God] have created a treaty with these 13 Attributes, that when recited, Israel will not be turned back empty-handed.”
The very concept that man recites these attributes of mercy means that he actively and truthfully seeks God’s mercy. As we said, at first, man understands that he is not “too far gone”, and that God can be his God even after many sins. His false self-image of a hopeless sinner is shed. Next, man recites God’s “merciful” attributes. But how does this recitation effectuate atonement?
Reciting and understanding these attributes, man transforms through a number of perfecting phases: First, man learns that God has the ability to end one’s life…but through His mercy, He does not. Man realizes his life is subject to termination. By recognizing God is “merciful” and “long suffering”, man contemplates his mortality, and fears that his very existence is subject to God’s will. Second, man will then naturally desire life. Third, he will associate his sins with that which is a “negative”, that which can terminate his life. Next, a feeling of regret is evoked within him for those sins. And finally, his labeling of his sins as “regretful” actions removes his attachment to sin, which grants him God’s atonement.
These 13 Attributes highlight God’s mercy…a mercy to man where our lives are sustained, in place of our destruction due to our sins. These attributes serve to focus us on the sublime realization that we are “created” beings, receiving and possessing sustained life, only if God wills our continued existence. “Existence” is our prime mover, and by reciting these attributes, our lives should are acutely threatened. God’s objective is that we return from our futilities, from our fantasy life, and become grounded by the humbling realization that we exist and live right now, only because He desires it as such, and His desire applies only to those who follow His path of Torah.
Therefore, these 13 Attributes atone man, by awaking us to the realization that we are created, “like clay in the hand of a potter”, as we recite on the High Holidays. Our lives are in God’s hands, and should render us regretful for our sins…actions that can destroy us. And with our subsequent removal from lethal sins, God need not punish us, as we have already abandoned the thought of sin, with no need for His punitive measures. This is how recital of the Attributes atones us. Atonement is meted out in all cases where man abandons a poor lifestyle, in favor of approaching God.
“Seek out God when He is found, call to Him when He is near. Let the wicked forsake his path, and a man of sin [forsake] his thoughts, and return to God, and He will show him mercy, and to our God, for He is abundant in forgiveness. For My thoughts are not [as] your thoughts, and your ways are not [like] Mine, so says God.”
Rashi cites a Midrash on the last verse: “[God says] My judgments are not as the judgments of flesh and blood who still hold accountable even one who has confessed his crime. But regarding My judgments, one who confesses his crime and abandons his sin, I show mercy.” Now, keep that Midrash in mind, as you read a few more verses from the ending of this Torah reading: “And the convert that joins God shall not state saying, ‘God has certainly separated me from His people’, and the eunuch shall not say, ‘Behold, I am dry wood’. For so says God to the eunuchs who observe My Sabbaths and choose in that which I desire and seize My covenant. And I will give to them into My house and my walls, a place and fame, better than sons and daughters an eternal name I will give them that shall never be cut off.” Additionally, the reading of Tisha B’Av too includes these words: “And you will seek from there God, your God, and you will find Him, when you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul.”
We realize that the very lesson that we have never “gone too far” for God to forgive, is a repeated theme; from the 13 Attributes, through the Torah reading for public fasts, and also for Tisha B’Av. Each Torah portion reiterates this theme.
We conclude that God desires the good for us. He understands the fatalistic and hopeless emotions we all carry, but such emotions do not have any place when it comes to repentance. God wishes us to counter those emotions in connection with repentance. True, God embedded in each of us the feeling of despair. But why is it a necessary emotion? Despair is to be engaged, but only when we meet with frustration when we sin. That is a proper time to be hopeless, and abandon sin. But repentance is something open to us all, and hopelessness and the feeling of being “too far gone” is what closes the doors to our improvement. Therefore, God insures that our Torah be permeated with this recurring theme that counters our feelings of despair by teaching, “there is always a road back”. God encourages us to improve, regardless of how low we have become. And as Rashi taught, the very act of removing even our thoughts from sin, afford us atonement: “But regarding My judgments, one who confesses his crime and abandons his sin, I show mercy.” Abandoning sin, is the mental commitment to refrain. Isaiah too repeats this theme: “Let the wicked forsake his path, and a man of sin [forsake] his thoughts…”
The road to perfection may be more far off for some of us than for others, but this is not a competition. It matters none how perfect or imperfect someone else is, when considering “your” relationship with God. Do not despair, and in fact, feel optimistic that you have a chance while yet alive to correct your ways, and embark upon a life where you will find true happiness and fulfillment. We are not designed to achieve happiness through possessions or fantasies, but through ever-increasing knowledge of the universe and our Creator.
We are all created beings, our existence is only at God’s will, and He created us with the capacity for great happiness, if only we follow His wisdom.
Following Torah principles is also vital to correcting our national predicament. It behooves all in Israel’s leadership to relinquish their subjective agendas, and admit that God’s truth surpasses our fantasies. Leading the country of Israel bereft of Torah principles endangers all, as one Rabbi lamented on the IDF soldiers who have lost their lives, all because Israel wished to minimize causalities on the enemy’s side. Such political correctness is not a Torah value, and it is clear why: it kills our own people.
In every case, God’s wisdom will benefit us. Apply it to yourself in repentance from your individual sins, and Israel, apply it to your leadership if you truly wish to save Jewish lives.
King David succeeded in his battles because God was with him, and God was with him only because David followed God: “And it was that David was wise in all his ways, and God was with him”.
 Gen. 18:19
 Isaiah, 44:20. This is the Haftorah of parshas Vayikra that commences laws of sacrifices. Sacrifice is to redirect our focus from animal worship, towards a slaying of mindless beasts in the proper service of God: “He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; viz., to build unto Him a temple; comp. “And they shall make unto me a sanctuary” (Exod. xxv. 8): to have the altar erected to His name; comp. “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me” (ibid. XX. 2 1): to offer the sacrifices to Him.” (Maimonides book III, chap. XXXII, pg 323
 Isaiah 55:6-8
 “Dry wood” is a euphemism for one who cannot bear children, as eunuchs are castrated.
 Deut. 4:29
 Samuel I, 18:14