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    Thirteen Attributes

    The High Holyday prayers constantly repeat the 13 Divine Attributes that derive from Exodus 34:6-7: “The Lord, the Lord, compassionate and gracious God…”

    Maimonides in his Guide to the Perplexed goes into great detail about the Divine attributes and concludes that there is no way we can spell out the nature of the Almighty.

    We know God exists, but what is God? We haven’t the language or the understanding to define Him, but we can set out His actions – not His essence but His deeds.

    Says Maimonides, the list of God’s qualities is a list of merciful deeds, an expression of benevolence.

    The exception seems to be that He punishes descendants for the sins of their ancestors, which is a warning to parents to give their children a good example and not try God’s patience. His own preference is to reward future generations for the piety and goodness of their ancestors.

    The sages say (Talmud Rosh HaShanah 17b) that God appeared to Moses and told him, “If Israel sin, let them repeat the 13 Attributes of Mercy and I will forgive them”.

    God’s mercy is always open and if we return to Him, He will return to us.

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