The Yamim Nora’im have passed by, and Bnei Yisrael are now enjoying the more relaxing holiday of Sukkot, the second half of connecting with Hashem during the month of Tishrei. Sukkot, consisting of Yamim Tovim and Cholei HaMo’eid, differs very much from Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Looking at the two on a very basic level, we can see that the High Holidays are spent mostly in Shul and have spiritual means of reaching Hashem (for example, the sound of the Shofar), while Sukkot is spent mostly in the Sukkah and with more physical means of reaching Hashem (for example, stretching out our Lulavim and Etrogim). I would like to suggest that these two entities, while very different to the observant eye, are directly connected to each other on a much deeper level than simply the latter holiday being a respite from the strenuous former.
During the month of Elul and the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, Jews around the world recite Selichot every weekday before Shacharit, and during multiple Tefillot on Yom Kippur. The daily Selichot would begin with “Ashrei,” and then various passages written mostly by the Ge’onim are recited. Between each of these, before the Vidui begins, the Pesukim of Hashem’s Thirteen Attributes is recited: “Hashem Hashem Keil Rachum VeChanun Erech Apayim VeRav Chessed VeEmet Notzeir Chessed LaAlafim Nosei Avon VaFesha VeChata’ah VeNakei,” “Hashem, Hashem is a merciful and gracious God; slow to anger and abundant in kindness and truth; He keeps kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin, and acquitting” (Shemot 34:6-7). These attributes are related to Hashem’s mercy and compassion, and we recite these Pesukim many times to try and stir these emotions in Him.
Interesting, as pointed out by a well-known Rabbi, Ashkenazic Jews recite the introductory paragraph of “Keil Erech Apayim Atah,” “You are a God slow to anger,” before saying the Attributes for the first time each day, while before each subsequent recitation, the paragraph of “Keil Melech Yosheiv Al Kisei Rachamim,” “Almighty King who sits on the throne of mercy” is recited. As this Rabbi explains, before reciting Selichot each morning, we are fearful and apprehensive of how Hashem will approach our pleas, and attempt to convince Hashem that He is slow to anger, and not one to chide or punish us for our sins. After reciting a single Selichah, our attitudes change, and we introduce all subsequent recitations of the Attributes by saying straight-out that we feel that Hashem is merciful.
After the Vidui (“Ashamnu, Bagadnu...”), we don’t recite the Thirteen Attributes anymore, but still conclude the Selichot with references to Hashem’s mercy. Before saying Tachanun, we recite the paragraphs of “Keil Rachum,” “Aneinu Hashem,” and “Mi SheAnah.” Interestingly, in the first, the only name of Hashem written is “Hashem” (Yud-Key-Vav-Key), God’s name connected to His attribute of mercy, while in the second, written are both this name of Hashem as well as “Elokim,” God’s name connected to judgment – the third only references Hashem with “Hu,” “He.” Perhaps, before concluding Selichot each day, we highlight with these paragraphs that while at first it might seem best to us for Hashem to only utilize mercy, we realize that His attribute of judgment is necessary as well, and then conclude by admitting that whatever attributes “He” utilizes are the same that helped save our forefathers, and we accept them as well.
On Yom Kippur itself, we never recite “Keil Erech Apayim Atah” before the Thirteen Attributes, and this can signify that we fully accept that Hashem will forgive us. While this is appropriate for the day, we know that this view is a dangerous one to have – to make sure that we don’t seem to take advantage of Hashem, we conclude Yom Kippur by saying seven times, “Hashem Hu HaElokim,” “Hashem is the God,” highlighting that Hashem is wise in both his attributes of mercy and judgment.
As we now enjoy Sukkot, it is very easy to feel the absence of our dirty slate, and we might forget that it is only because of Hashem’s abundant mercy that we continue to live and thrive for another year. As Hashem joins us in the last hurrahs of Chodesh Tishrei, it is important to be happy and enjoy the gifts that Hashem has given us with His mercy, and it is equally as important to keep in mind the parting words of Yom Kippur, that He is still our God and our judge. May we clutch this idea, and enter the next Yamim Nora’im with the true ability to say that we recognized all of the grand attributes of Hashem throughout the entire year.