Parsha Ki Tavo 5772: Tachanon, Hashem’s 13 Attributes of Mercy and the Blessings and Curses

by Moshe Burt

That these Parshiyot HaShevua are seen online via this blog, sent out to email lists of subscribers and ocassionally posted on Israel National News, it’s inevitable that this author would receive inquiries both about a vort itself, as well as about other related topics. It is in this spirit, that this author wishes to discuss, as best he can, Hashem’s Hashem’s Attribute of Kindness within the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (Rachmanot) and how it relates to our sins, the lack of a Beit Hamikdash (Temple) for nearly two milineum and what replaces it, as well as what appears as Hashem’s Attribute of Kindness, even from within the enunciation of the curses should we “not hearken to the voice of Hashem…, to observe and perform all of his commandments…” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 28, posuk 15)

A questioner asks:

Aren’t we all deserving of Hashem’s Strict Attribute of Justice due to our straying and our surrendering to weakness? And what are we doing since we are without the Beit HaMikdash? Why are we not still bringing offerings?

So, this author responds in this way:

We read from the Torah the blessings to be pronounced to B’nai Yisrael by the Levi’im upon Har Grizzim and Har Eival for avoidance of the following sins, and the curses pronounced by the Levi’im on B’nei Yisrael for committing them (L’lmod U’lamed on Parsha Ki Tovo, pages 180-182):

  • Idolatry
  • Dishonoring One’s Parents
  • Removing a neighbor’s boundary line
  • Misleading the blind
  • Acting unjustly toward the stranger, orpah and widow
  • Behaving in an immoral fashion
  • Murdering someone in secret
  • Taking a bribe to give false testimony in a case involving capital punishment
  • Failing to observe the commandments in general

All members of the twelve tribes were to respond to each curse and blessing and curse with the refrain of ‘Amen’ (Truth).

The people had frequently been warned of the consequences of dsobeying Hashem’s laws. Now that they are about to enter the Promised Land, Moshe felt it his duty to place even greater emphasis upon the results their future behavior would bring. If the B’nei Yisrael observed Hashem’s commandments, they would receive numerous blessings. These would include prosperity from the fields and within their cities, abundant livestock, the subjugation of enemies, and supremacy over other nations. The alternative would lead to disaster, disease, famine and death would result. The land… would be overrun by a cruel nation. The Jews would be scattered throughout the world and they would become slaves.

Consider these curses, in part:

“Hashem will lead you and your king… to a nation you never knew… and there you you will work for the gods of others — of wood and of stone. You will be an astonishment, a parable and a conversation piece, among all of the peoples where Hashem will lead you.” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 28, posukim 36-37)

“All of these curses will come upon you and pursue you and overtake you… because you will not have hearkened to the voice of Hashem, your G’d, to observe His commandments and decrees that He commanded you.” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 28, posuk 45)

“You will be left few in number, instead of having been like the stars of heaven in abundance…” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 28, posuk 62)

“Hashem will scatter you among all of the peoples, from the end of the earth to the end of the earth…” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 28, posuk 64)

“… There Hashem will give you a trembling heart, longing of eyes, and suffering of soul. Your life will hang in the balance, and you will be frightened night and day… In the morning you will say, ‘Who can give back last night’ And in the evening you will say, ‘Who can give back this morning!'” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 28, posukim 66-67)

Now consider the Tachanun tefillah (Artscroll Nusach S’fard Siddur, pages 128 – 131) recited immediately after davening the daily Shemonah Essrei of morning Shacharit and afternoon Mincha.

In Nusach Ashkenaz, we rest our heads down on our arm and recite 2 posukim:

“And David said to Gad, ‘I am exceedingly distressed. Let us fall into Hashem’s hand for his mercies are abundant, but let me not fall into human hands.’

O compassionate and gracious One, I have sinned before you. Hashem, Who is full of Mercy, have mercy on me and accept my supplications.”

Following these posukim, we recite Tehillim Perek 6, posukim 2-11 cited here, in part:

“….Hashem, release my soul; save me as befits Your kindness…. I am wearied by my sigh, every night I drench my bed, with my tears I soak my couch. My eye is dimmed…, aged by my tormentors. Depart from me, all evildoers, for Hashem has heard the sound of my weeping.

Hashem has heard my plea, Hashem will accept my prayer. Let all of my foes be shamed and utterly confounded, they will regret and be instantly shamed.”

Nusach S’fard tachanon begins with reciting the vidui/confession, followed by a recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, followed by the putting of one’s head down arm and reciting 2 verses and the Tehillim. In Nusach Ashkenaz, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are recited during each day of Selichot as well as with all of the 5 davenings (Shacharit, Mussaf, Mincha, Ne’ilah and Maariv) of Yom Kippur. In many Nusach S’fard Kehillot, as well as in S’fardi Kehillot, Selichot are recited late at night.

This author understands and connects Tachanun and the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy in connection with the aftermath of the Golden Calf. At that time, in Bamidbar (in the dessert), when Hashem stated his intention to destroy B’nai Yisrael and start again creating a people from Moshe’s seed, Moshe responded that “If You do not forgive their sin, blot me out from the book which you have written.” (Midrash Says, Sh’mos, Tetzaveh, P.273) The message there is, What will the nations say, what will the Mitzrayim say? Will they say that Hashem took the Jews out of Mitzrayim, but was not able to bring them to their land, so that they were destroyed in the Dessert? In otherwords, B’nei Yisrael’s destruction would have been a desecration of Hashem’s Name in the eyes of the nations. And so we say Vidui in Tachanun, followed by a
passage which says, in part:

“Turn to us in mercy for You are the Master of Mercy. With supplication and prayer we approach Your Presence in the manner that You made known to the humble one [Moshe] in ancient times.”

These tefillot are then followed by the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy:

“Ke’il Erech Apaiyim…” “Oh G’d, You are slow to anger, You are called the Master of Mercy, and You have taught the way of repentence….With supplication and prayer we approach Your Presence in the manner that You made known to the humble one [Moshe] in ancient times.

Turn back your fierce anger as it is written in Your Torah….”

This seems to connect The Attribute of Kindness with the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy of Rachmanot (mercy).

And so we invoke Hashem’s Attributes of Mercy each morning at Shacharit, and each afternoon at Mincha, in the Tachanon tefillot as well as in the early morning, pre-Shacharit Selich’ut in the week before Rosh Hashana and during Asseret Yomei Teshuva between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and on and Yom Kippur.

But notice how “…I am wearied by my sigh, every night I drench my bed, with my tears I soak my couch” of Tachanon relates to the Torah text of the Brachot and Klalot: “In the morning you will say, ‘Who can give back last night’ And in the evening you will say, ‘Who can give back this morning!'”

So although Hashem possesses Strict Attribute of Justice, He displays and provides us with thes Thirteen Attributes of Mercy in maintaining the Jewish people despite multitudinous sins in ancient times and down through history through today..

As to the question: what are we doing since we are without the Beit HaMikdash? And why are we not still bringing offerings? Shem Mishmuel, R’ Shmuel Bornstein, Rebbe of the Polish town of Sochaczev, writes in his Sefer of selected vorts on Parshiyot as translated into English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski (Shem Mishmuel, Parsha Ki Tavo, pages 416-417):

It is true that Moshe Rabbeinu saw with prophetic vision that the Beit HaMikdash would be destroyed and that with this many mitzvot would become defunct…. and thus instituted a system of prayer to compensate.

Our Rabbis teach us that included in the regiment of prayers: Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv, were the Korbonot associated with each day’s Shacharit and Mincha. And thus, our Shuls would then constitute mini-Beit HaMikdashim with all of the ensuing intentions and respects inherent were we to have the Beit HaMikdash through out the millinea. The services of the various Korbonot offered daily, as enunciated in Mishnayot and Gemoras, are meant to simulate in their order, the actual physical performance of the offerings and their service were we to have had the Beit HaMikdash through out the millinea to our generations.

It should therefore seem apparent that we keep paying for the sin of the Golden Calf — our Rabbis tell us, little parts of the Golden Calf thrown in added to our sins to this very day, and also, apparently, the sin of the spies, for which the cyclical nature of our history has brought calamity upon us throughout our history during the period of Chodesh Tammuz throught Tisha B’av. But Hashem made a covenant with Moshe, and in the merit of the Avos: Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov — that the Jewish people will always survive, will always prevail, and will outlive her foes, notwithstanding all of the tortures, expulsions, pogroms and persecutions we’ve withstood through the millinea.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage, backbone and moral stength of conviction to prevent both the eviction of Jews from their homes in all or any part of Eretz Yisrael and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem, Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.