Beginning with Hashem’s name stated twice, the “thirteen middos”(“aspects” or “attributes”) of Hashem’s compassion and love are sourced in our parsha.
The formula was taught to Moshe Rabbeinu by Hashem Himself after the sin of the golden calf. Its pertinence then is obvious, but the thirteen middos are for the future, too.
“When trouble comes upon the Jews because of their iniquities,” Hashem told Moshe (Rosh Hashanah 17b) “let them stand together before Me and recite” them.
Oddly, the same phrase “thirteen middos” is used in an entirely different and seemingly unrelated context. Namely, for the list, cited by the Sifri in Rabbi Yishmael’s name, enumerating the “hermeneutical” rules shehaTorah nidreshes bahem, by which laws are derived from the Torah’s words. Some of that methodology, more completely known as the “Thirteen Middos Through Which the Torah is Interpreted,” is logical, some of it not obviously so; all of it comprises a sacred part of Torah Shebe’al Peh, the Oral Law, itself.
That both the expressions of Hashem’s benevolence and of the hermeneutical principles number thirteen, and that both are described as “middos,” is intriguing. And meaningful.
The Creator, to our limited perception, seems to present two different “faces.” On the one hand, He is the Merciful, Life-Giver, Forgiver and Bestower of blessings. And, on the other, He is the Lawgiver, instilling the laws of nature in the universe, and charging humanity with the foundational “Noachide” laws – and Klal Yisroel, with the laws of the Torah.
Christianity’s founders were disturbed by that seeming dichotomy, and embraced the Creator as Merciful, but considered the Torah’s “ceremonial and judicial” laws to be no longer binding.
But Judaism recognizes that the same Creator is the Source of both love and demand. He is “Avinu Malkeinu,” “our Father and our King” – both a merciful Parent and a demanding Sovereign. The Source of mercy and patience is the very same Source of law and obligation.
Indeed, Divine law itself is a product of Divine mercy, as the laws we have been given reflect Hashem’s concern for our own ultimate wellbeing.
A fact that might be reflected in the fact that the sum of the two thirteens is twenty six, the gematria, or “letter value” of Hashem’s “name of rachamim,” His name of mercy.
© 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran