Imitatio Dei: The Secret Formula for Forgiveness
1 א

I. The Question

2ב

סליחות

Selichot

3 ג

(א) וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה פְּסָל לְךָ שְׁנֵי לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים כָּרִאשֹׁנִים וְכָתַבְתִּי עַל הַלֻּחֹת אֶת הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ עַל הַלֻּחֹת הָרִאשֹׁנִים אֲשֶׁר שִׁבַּרְתָּ. (ב) וֶהְיֵה נָכוֹן לַבֹּקֶר וְעָלִיתָ בַבֹּקֶר אֶל הַר סִינַי וְנִצַּבְתָּ לִי שָׁם עַל רֹאשׁ הָהָר. (ג) וְאִישׁ לֹא יַעֲלֶה עִמָּךְ וְגַם אִישׁ אַל יֵרָא בְּכָל הָהָר גַּם הַצֹּאן וְהַבָּקָר אַל יִרְעוּ אֶל מוּל הָהָר הַהוּא. (ד) וַיִּפְסֹל שְׁנֵי לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים כָּרִאשֹׁנִים וַיַּשְׁכֵּם מֹשֶׁה בַבֹּקֶר וַיַּעַל אֶל הַר סִינַי כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה אֹתוֹ וַיִּקַּח בְּיָדוֹ שְׁנֵי לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים. (ה) וַיֵּרֶד ה בֶּעָנָן וַיִּתְיַצֵּב עִמּוֹ שָׁם וַיִּקְרָא בְשֵׁם ה. (ו) וַיַּעֲבֹר ה עַל פָּנָיו וַיִּקְרָא ה ה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת. (ז) נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים נֹשֵׂא עָו‍ֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה וְנַקֵּה לֹא יְנַקֶּה פֹּקֵד עֲו‍ֹן אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים וְעַל בְּנֵי בָנִים עַל שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל רִבֵּעִים.

(1) And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first; and I will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which thou didst break. (2) And be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to Me on the top of the mount. (3) And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.’ (4) And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tables of stone. (5) And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. (6) And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed: ‘The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; (7) keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.’

4 ד

ויעבור ה' על פניו ויקרא א"ר יוחנן אלמלא מקרא כתוב אי אפשר לאומרו מלמד שנתעטף הקב"ה כשליח צבור והראה לו למשה סדר תפלה אמר לו כל זמן שישראל חוטאין יעשו לפני כסדר הזה ואני מוחל להם ה' ה' אני הוא קודם שיחטא האדם ואני הוא לאחר שיחטא האדם ויעשה תשובה אל רחום וחנון אמר רב יהודה ברית כרותה לי"ג מדות שאינן חוזרות ריקם שנאמר (שמות לד, י) הנה אנכי כורת ברית.

"And The Lord passed before him and proclaimed" (Exodus 34:6). Rabbi Yochanan said: Were a verse not written, it would be impossible to say it. This teaches that the Holy One, Blessed is He, wrapped Himself like a prayer leader and demonstrated to Moses the order of prayer. He said to him: Any time that Israel sins, let them perform before me this procedure and I shall forgive them." The Lord, The Lord! I am He before the person sins and I am He after the person sins and performs repentance. God, Compassionate and Gracious. Rav Yehudah said: a covenant has been made regarding the Thirteen Attributes that they never return empty, as it is stated, Behold I cut a covenant (Exodus 34:10)....

5 ה

II. Imitatio Dei: A Foundation of Jewish Ethics

6 ו

(ט) יְקִימְךָ יקוק לוֹ לְעַם קָדוֹשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לָךְ כִּי תִשְׁמֹר אֶת מִצְו‍ֹת יקוק אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו.

(9) The LORD will establish thee for a holy people unto Himself, as He hath sworn unto thee; if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in His ways.

7 ז

(ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יקוק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.

(2) Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them: Ye shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy.

8 ח

(שמות טו, ב) זה אלי ואנוהו... אבא שאול אומר ואנוהו הוי דומה לו מה הוא חנון ורחום אף אתה היה חנון ורחום

(Exodus 15:2) "This is my God and I will anvehu"... Abba Sha'ul says: Anvehu[means] be like Him. Just as He is gracious and compassionate, you should also be gracious and compassionate.

...

9 ט

ואמר רבי חמא ברבי חנינא מאי דכתיב (דברים יג, ה) אחרי ה' אלהיכם תלכו וכי אפשר לו לאדם להלך אחר שכינה והלא כבר נאמר (דברים ד, כד) כי ה' אלהיך אש אוכלה הוא אלא להלך אחר מדותיו של הקב"ה מה הוא מלביש ערומים דכתיב (בראשית ג, כא) ויעש ה' אלהים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבישם אף אתה הלבש ערומים הקב"ה ביקר חולים דכתיב (בראשית יח, א) וירא אליו ה' באלוני ממרא אף אתה בקר חולים הקב"ה ניחם אבלים דכתיב (בראשית כה, יא) ויהי אחרי מות אברהם ויברך אלהים את יצחק בנו אף אתה נחם אבלים הקב"ה קבר מתים דכתיב (דברים לד, ו) ויקבר אותו בגיא אף אתה קבור מתים

And Rabbi Hama the sone of Rabbi Hanina said: (Deuteronomy 13:5) "After God you shall walk." And is it possible for a man to walk after the Presence of God? And doesn't it already say (Deuteronomy 4:24) "Because God is a consuming flame"? Rather, [it means] to walk after the characteristics of God. Just as He clothed the naked [in the case of Adam and Chava]… so, too, should you clothe the naked. Just as the Holy One Blessed be He visited the sick [in the case of Avraham after his brit milah]…so, too, should you visit the sick. Just as the Holy One Blessed be He comforted the mourners [in the case of Yitzhak after Avraham’s passing]…so, too, should you comfort the mourners. Just as the Holy One Blessed be He buried the dead [in the case of Moshe]…so, too, should you bury the dead.

10 י

א"ר יוסף לעולם ילמד אדם מדעת קונו שהרי הקב"ה הניח כל הרים וגבעות והשרה שכינתו על הר סיני (והניח כל אילנות טובות והשרה שכינתו בסנה)

R. Joseph said: Man should always learn from the mind of his Creator; for behold, the Holy One, blessed be He, ignored all the mountains and heights and caused His Shechinah to abide upon Mount Sinai, and ignored all the beautiful trees and caused His Shechinah to abide in a bush.

Rambam, Hilchot De'ot 1:5-6
11 יא

(ה) ... ומצווין אנו ללכת בדרכים האלו הבינונים והם הדרכים הטובים והישרים שנאמר והלכת בדרכיו. (ו) כך למדו בפירוש מצוה זו מה הוא נקרא חנון אף אתה היה חנון מה הוא נקרא רחום אף אתה היה רחום מה הוא נקרא קדוש אף אתה היה קדוש ועל דרך זו קראו הנביאים לאל בכל אותן הכנויין ארך אפים ורב חסד צדיק וישר תמים גבור וחזק וכיוצא בהן להודיע שהן דרכים טובים וישרים וחייב אדם להנהיג עצמו בהן ולהדמות אליו כפי כחו.

5. ...We are commanded to walk in these intermediate paths - and they are good and straight paths - as [Sefer Devarim 28:9] states: “And you shall walk in His ways.”

6. [Our Sages] taught [the following] explanation of this mitzvah: Just as He is called “Gracious,” you shall be gracious; Just as He is called “Merciful,” you shall be merciful; Just as He is called “Holy,” you shall be holy; In a similar manner, the prophets called G-d by other titles: “Slow to anger,” “Abundant in kindness,” “Righteous,” “Just,” “Perfect,” “Almighty,” “Powerful,” and the like. [They did so] to inform us that these are good and just paths. A person is obligated to accustom himself to these paths and [to try to] resemble Him to the extent of his ability.

12 יב

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, From There You Shall Seek, page 75

In the practical realm, this conflict is embodied in the principle of Imitatio Dei. Halachic Judaism placed this principle at the center of the universe. “And you shall walk in His ways” (Deut. 28:9) – as He is, so you shall be (see Sotah 14a). “This is my G-d and I will imitate Him” (Ex. 15:2) – as He is, so you shall be (see Shabbat 133b).

13 יג

III. Imitatio Dei in Other Cultures

14 יד

Contemporary Christianity

15 טו

Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, 1178b

Therefore the activity of God, which surpasses all others in blessedness must be contemplative...for if the Gods have any care for human affairs, as they are thought to have, it would be reasonable both that they should delight in that which was best and most akin to them (i.e., reason) and that they should reward those who love and honor this most, as caring for the things that are dear to them and acting both rightly and nobly. And that all of these attributes belong most of all to the philosopher is manifest. He therefore is dearest to the gods.

16 טז

IV. The Reciprocal Nature of Imitatio Dei

17 יז

תניא ר' גמליאל ברבי אומר (דברים יג, יח) ונתן לך רחמים ורחמך והרבך כל המרחם על הבריות מרחמין עליו מן השמים וכל שאינו מרחם על הבריות אין מרחמין עליו מן השמים

It was taught R. Gamaliel Beribbi said: And he shall give thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee, and multiply thee: he Who is merciful to others, mercy is shown to him by Heaven, while he who is not merciful to others, mercy is not shown to him by Heaven.

18 יח

(רבא אמר) כל המעביר על מדותיו מעבירין לו על כל פשעיו שנאמר נושא עון ועובר על פשע למי נושא עון למי שעובר על פשע רב הונא בריה דרב יהושע חלש על רב פפא לשיולי ביה חזייה דחליש ליה עלמא אמר להו צביתו ליה זוודתא לסוף איתפח הוה מיכסיף רב פפא למיחזייה א"ל מאי חזית אמר (ליה) אין הכי הוה ואמר להו הקב"ה הואיל ולא מוקים במיליה לא תקומו בהדיה שנאמר נושא עון ועובר על פשע למי נושא עון לעובר פשע

Raba said: He who forgoes his right [to exact punishment] is forgiven all his iniquities, as it says, Forgiving iniquity and passing by transgression. Who is forgiven iniquity? One who passes by transgression [against himself]. R. Huna the son of R. Joshua was once ill. R. Papa went to inquire about him. He saw that he was very ill and said to those present, Make ready provisions for his [everlasting] journey. Eventually, however, he [R. Huna] recovered, and R. Papa felt ashamed to see him. He said to him, What did you see [in your illness]? He replied, It was indeed as you thought, but the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them [the angels]: Because he does not insist upon his rights, do not be particular with him, as it says, Forgiving iniquity and passing by transgression. Who is forgiven iniquity? He who passes by transgression.

19 יט

שוב מעשה בר' אליעזר שירד לפני התיבה ואמר עשרים וארבע ברכות ולא נענה ירד רבי עקיבא אחריו ואמר אבינו מלכנו אין לנו מלך אלא אתה אבינו מלכנו למענך רחם עלינו וירדו גשמים הוו מרנני רבנן יצתה בת קול ואמרה לא מפני שזה גדול מזה אלא שזה מעביר על מדותיו וזה אינו מעביר על מדותיו

It is further related of R. Eliezer that once he stepped down before the Ark and recited the twenty-four benedictions [for fast days] and his prayer was not answered. R. Akiba stepped down after him and exclaimed: Our Father, our King, we have no King but Thee; our Father, our King, for Thy sake have mercy upon us; and rain fell. The Rabbis present suspected [R. Eliezer], whereupon a Heavenly Voice was heard proclaiming. [The prayer of] this man [R. Akiba] was answered not because he is greater than the other man, but because he is ever forbearing and the other is not....

20 כ

V. Imitatio Dei and the Selichot Liturgy

21 כא

(יג) וְעַתָּה אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ הוֹדִעֵנִי נָא אֶת דְּרָכֶךָ וְאֵדָעֲךָ לְמַעַן אֶמְצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה כִּי עַמְּךָ הַגּוֹי הַזֶּה. (יד) וַיֹּאמַר פָּנַי יֵלֵכוּ וַהֲנִחֹתִי לָךְ. (טו) וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אִם אֵין פָּנֶיךָ הֹלְכִים אַל תַּעֲלֵנוּ מִזֶּה. (טז) וּבַמֶּה יִוָּדַע אֵפוֹא כִּי מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ אֲנִי וְעַמֶּךָ הֲלוֹא בְּלֶכְתְּךָ עִמָּנוּ וְנִפְלֵינוּ אֲנִי וְעַמְּךָ מִכָּל הָעָם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה. (יז) וַיֹּאמֶר יקוק אֶל מֹשֶׁה גַּם אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ אֶעֱשֶׂה כִּי מָצָאתָ חֵן בְּעֵינַי וָאֵדָעֲךָ בְּשֵׁם. (יח) וַיֹּאמַר הַרְאֵנִי נָא אֶת כְּבֹדֶךָ. (יט) וַיֹּאמֶר אֲנִי אַעֲבִיר כָּל טוּבִי עַל פָּנֶיךָ וְקָרָאתִי בְשֵׁם יקוק לְפָנֶיךָ וְחַנֹּתִי אֶת אֲשֶׁר אָחֹן וְרִחַמְתִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר אֲרַחֵם. (כ) וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא תוּכַל לִרְאֹת אֶת פָּנָי כִּי לֹא יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם וָחָי. (כא) וַיֹּאמֶר יקוק הִנֵּה מָקוֹם אִתִּי וְנִצַּבְתָּ עַל הַצּוּר. (כב) וְהָיָה בַּעֲבֹר כְּבֹדִי וְשַׂמְתִּיךָ בְּנִקְרַת הַצּוּר וְשַׂכֹּתִי כַפִּי עָלֶיךָ עַד עָבְרִי.

(13) Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy ways, that I may know Thee, to the end that I may find grace in Thy sight; and consider that this nation is Thy people.’ (14) And He said: ‘My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.’ (15) And he said unto Him: ‘If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. (16) For wherein now shall it be known that I have found grace in Thy sight, I and Thy people? is it not in that Thou goest with us, so that we are distinguished, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth?’ (17) And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken, for thou hast found grace in My sight, and I know thee by name.’ (18) And he said: ‘Show me, I pray Thee, Thy glory.’ (19) And He said: ‘I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’ (20) And He said: ‘Thou canst not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.’ (21) And the LORD said: ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon the rock. (22) And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand until I have passed by.

22 כב

The Guide of the Perplexed 1:54

When [Moshe] asked for knowledge of the attributes and asked for forgiveness for the nation, he was given a [favorable] answer with regard to their being forgiven. Then he asked for the apprehension of His essence, may He be exalted. This is what he means when he says "Show me, I pray Thee, Thy glory;" whereupon he received a [favorable] answer with regard to what he had asked for at first - namely, "Show me Thy ways." ...It is then clear that the "ways" - for a knowledge of which he had asked and which, in consequence, were made known to him - are the actions proceeding from God, may He be exalted. The Sages call them "characteristics" and speak of the "thirteen characteristics." This term, as they use it, is applied to moral qualities...For the utmost virtue of man is to become like unto Him, may He be exalted, as far as he is able; which means that we should make our actions like unto His, as the Sages made clear when interpreting the verse "You shall be holy." They said: "He is gracious, so be you also gracious; He is merciful, so be you also merciful."

23כג

R' Eliyahu da Vidas, Reishit Hokhmah

Sha'ar Anavah 1

And I heard in the name of the Geonim that this is the meaning of that which they said in Mesechet Rosh Hashanah regarding "And The Lord passed before him and proclaimed" (Exodus 34:6). Rabbi Yochanan said: Were a verse not written, it would be impossible to say it. This teaches that the Holy One, Blessed is He, wrapped Himself like a prayer leader and demonstrated to Moses the order of prayer. He said to him: Any time that Israel sins, let them perform before Me this procedure and I shall forgive them. And the matter is difficult because we have seen many times in which we have proclaimed the 13 attributes and [our prayers] are not answered. Rather the Geonim say that the meaning of "let them perform before Me this procedure" is not merely the wrapping of a talit. Rather that they should perform the attributes which the Holy One Blessed be He taught to Moshe: that He is a merciful and compassionate God. That is, just as He is compassionate so too you should be compassionate, etc. And likewise for all 13 attributes.

24 כד

Summary:

  1. The Question: Why this passage?
  2. The Answer: God made us a deal
    • What does that mean?
  3. ID: A foundational principal of Jewish ethics
    • Borrowed by other cultures - and changed
  4. Chazal stress the reciprocal nature of ID
    • ID can be instrumental in achieving atonement
  5. Can the liturgy really be read as referencing ID?
    • "והלכת בדרכיו" is a reference to "הודעני נא את דרכיך"
      • הודעני נא את דרכיך״" is the request to which the 13 middot are the answer
    • "יעשו לפני כסדר הזה" means do it, not say it