Rabbi Deborah J. Brin • Jewish Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling
©2021 Rabbi Deborah J. Brin — Member: Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin
Albuquerque, New Mexico • Jewish Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling
Grace, Loving kindness, Compassion & Mercy—Chayn
V’chesed Uv’rachamim – Yom Kippur morning 2014
Friday, 16 January 2015
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin
Psalm 30:9 & 11
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: I call to You, Yah! I plead [etchanan]
with You Adonai!
Listen, Yah! Be kind to me! [v’chonayni] Yah, please help me.
“We should thank whatever God that we believe in that the
Universe is not a just place, and we don’t get what we deserve”.
That was my ‘take away’ from a speech I heard a few years ago
that was given by Travis Koplow, a writer from Los Angeles.
Being shown kindness rather than harsh judgment - when we
don’t get whatever verdict or punishment we do deserve, that is
grace. Grace. Growing up in Minnesota, I thought that ‘grace’ was
a Christian concept. At a friends’ house for dinner, there was
always an uncomfortable moment for me when they would bow
their heads and ‘say grace’. I heard my friends’ parents say things
like, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. And in school when we
sang “America the Beautiful” I never understood what it meant to
say: God shed his grace on thee.
Is it possible that this is a Jewish concept? Much to my surprise,
the answer is: Absolutely!
The Hebrew word is “cheyn”. In the Bible it is usually translated as
‘grace’ and is hard to distinguish from the concepts of mercy,
compassion, and kindness.
This conglomerate idea of grace-mercy-kindness & compassion
comes from a verse in the Book of Exodus. Havayah, Havayah
[Adonai, Adonai] El Rachcum v’Chanun, Erech Apayim v’ Rav
Chesed v’Emet. YHVH, YHVH, God is compassionate and gracious,
patient and abounding in loving kindness and truth; keeps
kindness for a thousand eons, forgiving sin, rebellion and
transgression. [Exodus 34:6].
This verse is referred to as the 13 Attributes of God. It is found in
the Book of Exodus right after the incident of the Golden Calf.
God wanted to obliterate us when we turned aside from our
covenant so quickly and engaged in idolatrous, licentious and
drunken behavior while worshipping a Golden Calf. According to
the Talmud, in Rosh Hashanah 17b, Moses was certain that our
sin was so egregious that he would not be able to intercede for
us. This is when God appears to Moses and teaches him the 13
Attributes and says to Moses: "Whenever Israel sins, let them
recite this [the Thirteen Attributes] in its proper order and I will
This is why this verse is scattered throughout the High Holy Day
liturgy, beginning with Selichot, the Saturday night before Rosh
HaShannah.We sing it throughout the High Holy Days in order to
remind God to be gracious and compassionate to us.
The High Holy Days are full of illusions to judgment. YHVH is a
judging God. The archaic metaphor of the High Holy Day liturgy is
that on Rosh HaShannah a judgment is written for each one of us,
and on Yom Kippur it is sealed in the record. On Kol Nidre night
we hear the line in the liturgy, ‘hinay Yom ha Din’ - - - behold,
this is the Day of Judgment. And at Ne’ilah, the last service of
Yom Kippur, we are urged to ‘do t’shuvah’ to turn from our
destructive ways and to do it now, before the moment is lost,
before the gates to heaven close. Throughout the Days of Awe, we
pray wholeheartedly to be forgiven; we pray that our sins and
errors will not be held against us.
A tension exists between judgment and condemnation on the one
hand and grace, forgiveness and compassion on the other hand. It
is certainly easier to ask for forgiveness in an environment where
grace, compassion and mercy hold sway. We know that it is
terribly difficult to acknowledge what we have done wrong and
come to a place of willingness to change when we are being
glared at by someone who is judging us. The person doing the
judging may be a real person — a parent, peer or partner — or we
may have an internal voice that condemns us for failing yet again.
Getting honest, acknowledging our failings and making real
transformation all require an atmosphere of compassion. Even if
our behavior was remarkably awful, in order to ‘fess up, we need a
sense that we are going to be cut some slack, given a break, be
believed in and trusted.
The Rabbis of the Talmudic period alternately described God as a
gracious, compassionate, merciful presence and as a judging
presence. These two poles, two opposite characteristics are
referred to in the Talmud as ‘haMidat haDin’, the attribute of
justice and ‘haMidat haRachamim’ the attribute of compassion.
There is a mystical concept that is prevalent throughout the
Kabalistic literature. It is, “as above, so below, as below, so
above”. This is visually represented by the kabalistic tree of life,
with its’ trunk and branches spread out reaching into the heavens,
and a corresponding mirror image of that same trunk and
branches upside down.
What does this mean? What we do matters. There are no
guarantees – we all know that good and decent people can suffer
terribly and that nasty, evil people can live a life of ease. Even so,
there is an idea of measure for measure, that what we dish out
comes back to us. If we are kind, then God will treat us with
The Zohar, a mystical text, teaches us: “if a person does kindness
on earth, that person awakens loving-kindness above”. [Zohar
If we cut other people some slack, then God will judge us
Pirkei Avot, a collection of wise aphorisms from the rabbis of the
Talmudic period, emphasizes that we should refrain from judging
others; we should give them a break and assume the best of
Hillel said, “do not judge another person until you have been
in his/her position”. [Pirkei Avot 2:5, adapted to be gender
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai “asked his students, what is the
best quality a person should have? Rabbi Eliezer said: A good
eye.” [Pirkei Avot 2:13 adapted to be gender neutral]. What
does a ‘good eye mean? Having a generous nature when it
comes to other people.
The Talmud, in Shabbat 127b, expands on this idea of having
a good eye, that is, looking at others through the lens of
generosity. It tells a long story about an employer who was
very delayed in paying his worker. The worker gave his
employer the benefit of the doubt and did not judge him
negatively. When the employer finally was able to pay him,
he said: ‘just as you judged me favorably, so may the
Omnipresent judge you favorably.’
So here we are on Yom Kippur, and I’m urging you to think about
God as an accepting, kind, and compassionate Presence in our
lives. Think of God, as the One Who Gives Us A Break.
Take a moment and think about what would be helpful to you
right now. What kind of a break do you need? Do you need to
ease up on yourself? Do you need someone else to cut you some
slack? Think about it for a moment and when you are ready, turn
to someone near you who is not related to you and is not your
partner or spouse. Decide which one of you will go first and then
take turns telling one another what you need, and asking for a
blessing that you should achieve it or receive it in the coming
year. Make sure that you take turns.
A tension exists
between judgment and
condemnation on the
one hand and grace,
compassion on the other
hand. It is certainly easier
to ask for forgiveness in an
environment where grace,
compassion and mercy