Shiurim by Menachem Leibtag
In Memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag



Let's take a look now at God's response to Moshe's request. Note that here is first time in Chumash where God introduces the concept of divine mercy:

"And God said to Moshe, 'I will also do this thing that you request... [to return His Shchina / Moshe then asked that God show His Glory -] then God answered: ' I will pass all my goodness before you, and I will proclaim My name before you, and I will pardon he whom I will pardon and I will have mercy on he to whom I give mercy (ve-chanoti et asher achon, ve-richamti et asher arachem")... (33:17-22).

In contrast to His original threat of immediate punishment should they sin (if God is in there midst), now God agrees to allow Bnei Yisrael a 'second chance' (should they sin). This divine promise sets the stage for the forging of a new covenant though which brit Sinai can be re-established, for it allows the Shchina to return without the necessity of immediate severe punishment.

Therefore, God instructs Moshe to ascend Har Sinai one more time, in a manner quite parallel to his first ascent to Har Sinai [but with significant minor differences], to receive the second luchot (see 34:1-5 and its parallel in 19:20-24).

As we should expect, the laws should and do remain the same. However, their terms must now be amended with God's attributes of mercy. Hence, when Moshe now ascends Har Sinai, it is not necessary for God to repeat the dibrot themselves, for they remain the same. Instead, God will descend to proclaim an amendment to how He will act in this relationship - i.e. His attributes of mercy.

As God had promised in 33:19 (review that pasuk before continuing), a new covenant, reflecting this enhanced relationship, is now forged:

"And God came down in a cloud...& passed before him and proclaimed: ' Hashem, Hashem Kel rachum ve-chanun, erech apayim ve-rav chesed ve-emet, notzer chesed la-alafim" (34:5-8).


With this background, we can now better appreciate the words that God chose to describe His new midot. To do so, we must first quickly review God's midot as described at Ma'amad Har Sinai in parshat Yitro.

Recall that the dibrot included not only laws, but also describe how God will reward (or punish) those who obey (or disobey) His commandments. Let's review these 'original' attributes by noting them (in bold) as we quote the Commandments:

"I am the Lord your God...

You shall have no other gods besides Me...

Do not bow down to them or worship them, for I the Lord am a Kel kana - a zealous God

poked avon avot al banim - remembering the sin of parents upon their children... for those who reject Me [le-son'ai], but

oseh chesed - showing kindness... for those who love me and follow my laws - [le-ohavai u-leshomrei mitzvotai]" (see 20:2-6).

Note how the second Commandment includes three divine attributes:

1) Kel kana - a zealous God

2) poked avon avot al banim - le-son'ai

harsh punishment for those who reject God

3) oseh chesed la-alafim - le-ohavai

Kindness & reward for those who follow God.

Similarly, in the third Commandment, we find yet another mida [divine attribute]:

"Do not say in vain the name of God - ki lo yenakeh Hashem - for God will not forgive he who says His Name in vain" (20:7).

Let's add this fourth attribute to the above list:

4) lo yenakeh Hashem - He will not forgive

How should we consider these four attributes? At first glance, most of them seem to be quite harsh!

Even the mida of oseh chesed - Divine kindness, does not necessarily imply mercy. Carefully note in 20:6 that God promises this kindness only for those who follow Him, and hence not for any others. Most definitely, all four of these attributes are quite the opposite of mercy, they are midot ha-din - attributes of exacting retribution.

Although these midot have their 'down side', for they threaten immediate punishment for those who transgress (le-son'ai), they also have their 'up side', for they assure immediate reward for those who obey (le-ohavai). In other words, these midot describe a very intense relationship, quite similar to [and not by chance] to God's relationship with man in Gan Eden (see Breishit 2:16-17).


Yet another example of this intense relationship, and another attribute as well, is found at the conclusion of the unit of laws in Parshat Mishpatim. Recall that immediately after the Ten Commandments, Moshe was summoned to Har Sinai to receive a special set of commandment to relay to Bnei Yisrael (see Shmot 20:15-19). At the conclusion of those laws, God makes the following promise:

"Behold, I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and help bring you into the Promised Land. Be careful of him and obey him, Do not defy him - for he shall not pardon your sins -"ki lo yisa le-fish'achem", since My Name is with him...

[On the other hand...]

"...should you obey Him and do all that I say - I will help you defeat your enemies... (see Shmot 23:20-24).

Once again, we find that God will exact punishment should Bnei Yisrael not follow His mitzvot and reward (i.e. assistance in conquering the Land) should they obey Him.

Finally, after chet ha-egel, we find that God intends to act precisely according to these attributes of midat ha-din:

"And God told Moshe, go down from the mountain for your people has sinned... they made a golden image... and now allow Me, and I will kindle My anger against them that I may destroy them -ve-yichar api bahem..." (see Shmot 32:7-10).

Here we find yet another divine attribute - charon af Hashem - God's instant anger.

Let's summarize these six attributes that we have found thus far. Later, this list will be very helpful when we compare these midot to God's midot in the second luchot.

1) Kel kana

2) poked avon ... le-son'ai

3) oseh chesed... le-ohavai

4) lo yenakeh

5) lo yisa le-fish'achem...

6) charon af

We will now show how these six examples of midat ha-din relate directly to the new attributes that God now declares. Note the obvious - and rather amazing - parallel that emerges:


1) Kel kana Kel rachum ve-chanun

2) poked avon...le-son'ai poked avon avot al banim...

3) oseh chesed la-alafim rav chesed ve-emet

... le-ohavai notzer chesed la-alafim...

4) lo yenakeh ve-nakeh, lo yenakeh

5) lo yisa lefisheichem nosei avon ve-fesha...

6) charon af erech apayim


Each attribute from the original covenant switches from midat ha-din to midat ha-rachamim. [To appreciate this parallel, it is important to follow these psukim in the original Hebrew.]

Let's take now a closer look:

A. Hashem Kel rachum ve-chanun --> (1) Hashem Kel kana

rachum ve-chanun based on 33:19 (see above)

a merciful God in contrast to a zealous God

B. Erech apayim --> (6) charon af

slow to anger in contrast to instant anger

C. Rav chesed ve-emet --> (3) oseh chesed... le-ohavai

abounding kindness for all, potentially even for the wicked [This may allow the possibility of 'rasha ve-tov lo']

in contrast to exacting kindness, and hence, limited exclusively to those who obey Him.

[Note that the mida of emet is now required, for this abounding kindness for all must be complemented by the attribute of truth to assure ultimate justice.]

D. Notzer chesed la-alafim --> (3) oseh chesed....


He stores His kindness, so that even if it is not rewarded immediately, it is stored to be given at a later time.

[This may allow the possibility of 'tzadik ve-ra lo']

in contrast to immediate kindness and reward for those who follow Him.

E. Nosei avon ve-fesha... --> (5) lo yisa le-fish'achem ...

forgiving sin in contrast to not forgiving sin.

F. Ve-nakeh, lo yenakeh --> (4) lo yenakeh

sometimes He will forgive, sometimes He may not.

[See Rashi, forgives those who perform teshuva.]

in contrast to never forgiving.

G. Poked avon avot al banim..--> (2) poked avon le-son'ai

He withholds punishment for up to four generations

[in anticipation of teshuva / see Rashi]

in contrast to extending punishment for up to four generations.

[Even though these two phrases are almost identical, their context forces us to interpret each pasuk differently. In the first luchot, all four generations are punished, in the second luchot, God may hold back punishment for four generations, allowing a chance for teshuva. See Rashi.]

These striking parallels demonstrate that each of the '13 midot' lies in direct contrast to the midot of the original covenant at Har Sinai.

This background can help us appreciate Moshe's immediate reaction to God's proclamation of these midot:

"And Moshe hastened to bow down and said: 'If I have indeed gained favor in Your eyes - let Hashem go in our midst - 'ki' = even though they are an am ksheh oref -a stiff necked people, and you shall pardon our sin..." (34:8-9)

God's proclamation that He will now act in a less strict manner enables Moshe to request that God now return His Shchina to the people even though they are an am ksheh oref. Note how this request stands in direct contrast to God's original threat that "he will not go up with them for they are a stiff necked people, less He smite them on their journey..." (see 33:3/ compare with 34:9)!

These Divine attributes of mercy now allow the Shchina to dwell within Yisrael even though they may not be worthy.

From a certain perspective, this entire sequence is quite understandable. For, on the one hand, to be worthy of God's presence, man must behave perfectly. However, man is still human. Although he may strive to perfection, he may often error or at times even sin. How then can man ever come close to God? Hence, to allow mortal man the potential to continue a relationship with God, a new set of rules is necessary - one that includes midot ha-rachamim.

The original terms of brit Sinai, although ideal, are not practical. In this manner, midot ha-rachamim allow brit Sinai to become achievable. These midot ha-rachamim reflect God's kindness that allows man to approach Him and develop a closer relationship without the necessity of immediate punishment for any transgression.


This explanation adds extra meaning to our comprehension and appreciation of our recitation of the Selichot. Reciting the 13 midot comprises more than just a mystical formula. It is a constant reminder of the conditions of the covenant of the second luchot. God's attributes of mercy, as we have shown, do not guarantee automatic forgiveness, rather, they enable the possibility of forgiveness. As the pasuk stated, God will forgive only he whom He chooses ("et asher achon... ve-et asher arachem" / 33:19). To be worthy of that mercy, the individual must prove his sincerity to God, while accepting upon himself not to repeat his bad ways.

shabbat shalom,




1. It is not clear why Aharon does not insist that the people be patient and wait for Moshe. Note that, according to 24:14, the people are instructed to turn to Aharon and Chur, should a problem arise. Interestingly enough, Chur is never mentioned again.

Relate this to the Midrash that explains Aharon's behavior because Chur had told them to wait and was killed.

2. Note the use of the word 'shichet' in 32:7. In Devarim 4:16 we find a similar use of this shoresh in relation to making a physical representation of God with good intentions!

Read Devarim 4:9-24 carefully and note its connection to the events at chet ha-egel. Use this parallel to explain 4:21-23.

3. See the Rambam's first halacha in Hilchot Avoda Zara. Relate his explanation of the origin of Avoda Zara to the above shiur.


A. As the new covenant allows for mercy, the perception of God becomes less clear. While the first covenant boasted a clear relationship of 'panim el panim' (face to face / 33:11), this new covenant, even to Moshe, is represented by a 'face to back' relationship:

"But, He said, you can not see my face ... Station yourself on

the Rock as My Presence passes by ... you will see my back, but

My face must not be seen."["LoTuchal lir'ot panai - ki lo

yir'ani ha-adam va-chai -... ve-ra'ita et achorai - u-panai lo



This new level has a clear advantage, midat ha-rachamim -

however there is still a price to pay - the unclarity of Hashem's

hashgacha. No longer is punishment immediate; however, reward may also suffer from delay. Hashem's hashgacha becomes more complex and now allows apparent situations of tzadik ve-ra lo-

rasha ve-tov lo.

1. See Chazal's explanation of "hodi'eni na et drachecha" (33:13)

How does this relate to our explanation?

2. As communication is clearer when talking face to face with someone as opposed to talking to someone with his back turned, attempt to explain the symbolism of the above psukim.

3. Why must Moshe Rabeinu also go down a level in his nevu'a?

B. The second luchot are carved by man, and not by God. Attempt to relate this requirement based on the nature of the 13 midot.

Relate this to the mitzva for Bnei Yisrael to build the Mishkan, which follows in parshat Vayakhel.

Compare this to the mitzva to begin building a sukka immediately after Yom Kippur, and in general, why the holiday of Sukkot follows Yom Kippur.

C. After God declares His 13 midot of Rachamim (34:6-9), He makes a promise (34:10), and then adds some commandments (34:11-26).

Are these commandments new, or are they a 'repeat' of mitzvot which were given earlier in Parshat Mishpatim?

[Relate especially to Shmot 23:9-33.]

If so, can you explain why they are being repeated?

[Hint: Which type of mitzvot from Parshat Mishpatim are not repeated?] Relate your answer to the events of chet ha-egel.

D. In the story of chet ha-egel, we find a classic example of a 'mila mancha', i.e. use of the verb 'lir'ot' - to see [r.a.h.].

Review chapters 32->34 in this week's parsha while paying attention to this word. 'See' for yourself if it points to a theme. As you read, pay careful attention to: 32:1, 32:5, 32:9, 32:19, 32:25, 33:10, 33:12-13!, 33:20-23, 34:10, 34:23-24!, 34:30, and 34:35. What does it mean when God 'sees'..., when man 'sees'..., and when man 'sees' (or is seen by) God? Relate also to the use of this verb (r.a.h.) at Ma'amad Har Sinai, especially 20:15, 20:19. See also 19:21, 24:10, & Dvarim 5:21! Could you say that 'seeing is believing'?

If you had fun with that one, you can also try an easier one: the use of the word 'ra'a' [evil / reish.ayin.hey.] in 32:12-14.

Relate to 32:17, 32:22, 32:25?, 33:4. Relate to Shmot 10:10; see Rashi, Ramban, Chizkuni, Rashbam.

E. Chazal explain that God's original intention was to create the world with his attribute of 'din' [judgement], but after realizing that it could not survive, He included (in His creation) the attribute of 'rachamim' [mercy] as well. [See Rashi Breishit 1:1 - 'bara Elokim...']

Relate this to the above shiur. Would you say that this Midrash reflects Sefer Shmot as well as Sefer Breishit.

F. Note 'kol tuvi' in 33:19. Relate this to "va-yar Elokim ki tov" mentioned after each stage of creation in Breishit chapter 1.

Can you relate this to the above question and above shiur?

See also Rambam Moreh Nevuchim I:54 / second paragraph.

[page 84 in Kapach edition Mosad Harav Kook]

G. Note 34:10 "hinei anochi koret brit..." & 34:29-30. Relate this to why we refer to midot ha-rachamim in selichot as 'brit shlosh esrei' .

H. Connect Part I of the above shiur to a similar concept of a mal'ach leading Bnei Yisrael, represented by a physical symbol - as in Bamidbar 10:33:"ve-aron brit Hashem noseia lifneihem derech shloshet yamim la-tur lahem menucha". See also Bmd. 10:35-36 & Yehoshua 6:6-11.