Parshat Ki Tissa contains wisdom on wrongdoing and forgiveness. It describes one of the greatest failings of Bnei Yisrael and then God’s boundless compassion. This episode can serve as a model for contemporary times.
After the sin of the golden calf, Hashem tells Moshe that he will destroy the Jewish people. However, one key word hints that not all hope is lost. God says: “Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them…” Why did God tell Moshe “hanicha li,” “leave Me alone,” before Moshe said anything? Rashi explains that God “created an opening,” hinting to Moshe that he should pray to save the Jewish people. Even when it seemed as though God wouldn’t forgive Israel for their transgressions, God was merciful and left the door open for prayers and forgiveness.
The Divine attributes of mercy and compassion are highlighted again when Moshe goes up Mt. Sinai a second time and God descends in a cloud. The Torah is ambiguous about who is praying here, Moshe or God. Surprisingly, Rabbi Yochanan teaches in Talmud Berakhot that God wrapped Himself in a tallit like a shaliach tzibbur and taught Moshe how to pray for mercy, through the 13 middot (characteristics) of God, including forgiveness and compassion. Hence, these tefillot become the core of selichot, prayers for God’s mercy. The Sifrei views the 13 middot as a model for ethical behavior: to “walk in the ways of Hashem,” is to practice compassion with others just as God was compassionate with us.
Ki Tissa presents a model for how to recover from rifts and discord in our relationship with others, by leaving the door open to the possibility of prayer, acceptance and forgiveness. The 13 middot teach that tefillah is not only about personal requests but also about introspection, shaping our character and ability to listen and forgive. May we see more of these middot in our relationships, in our homeland and in our world. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson