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Appreciating His Infinite Mercy
‘I Am He Before The Person Sins…’
(Rosh Hashanah 17b)

 

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The Gemara expounds on Hashem’s 13 Attributes of Mercy, which are enumerated in Shemos (34:6) beginning with, “Hashem, Hashem” (which is the name of Hashem that connotes mercy. The Gemara explains that the first name of Hashem references to the fact that Hashem has mercy on a sinner prior to the perpetuation of his sin, and the second name of Hashem refers to Hashem’s mercy after one’s sins (for He accepts a sinner’s repentance).

 

Conforming To Man’s Needs

The Rosh (ad loc.) asks why Hashem’s mercy is necessary before one sins.

The Rosh answers that even though Hashem, Who knows the future, is aware of a person’s future sins, He only judges an individual according to his current state, and He does not take one’s future sins into consideration.

 

Sinful Intent

Alternatively, the Rosh suggests that this attribute is relevant with regard to the sin of avodah zarah (idolatry). The Gemara (Kiddushin 29b) says that one is punished for the sin of avodah zarah not only for his sinful act but also for his sinful thought – intent (as opposed to the other sins for which intent is not punishable. The Rosh explains that Hashem, nevertheless, does not mete out punishment for one’s intention to worship avodah zarah until after he actually commits the sin (at which point one incurs punishment for his act and also for his intent). However, if one retracts from his original sinful intent, and in the end decides not to sin, Hashem has mercy and does not punish him for his sinful intent.

 

A Gift Of G-d

The Orchas Chayim (cited 6, Rav Yaakov Yehoshua Hamberger in Sha’arei Rachamim on the 13 Attributes of Mercy) explains that Hashem’s mercy on a person prior to sinning manifests itself in the fact that Hashem provides a person with a natural tendency to follow the path of mitzvos and virtue rather than to sin.

 

Nurturing All His Creations

The Ohr HaChayim (Shemos 34:6) explains that Hashem’s mercy before one sins is required for one who lacks mitzvos. Hashem has mercy on such a person and allows him to exist even though he lacks zechusim (merits). Rabbenu Chananel (ad loc.) similarly notes that Hashem inscribes man for his life irrespective of future sin.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.