Selichot for Elul – 13 Attributes of God

When Moses ascended up Mt. Sinai the second time after the Israelites sinned,  God gave Moses a duplicate set of words that were written on the first tablets.  At this time, God passed in front of Moses and proclaimed His Name and His character attributes.  The Scriptures state that ‘at once’ Moses interceded for Israel and prostrated himself before God.  He asked God to pardon the offenses and sins of the people and keep them as His treasured possession in spite of their rebelliousness.  God responds by making a covenant with the mixed multitude “the wonders such as have not been created anywhere on earth or in any nation” (Exodus 34:10).

During the month of Elul, selichot or penitent prayers are spoken daily.  Within the selichot are the thirteen attributes of God’s character spoken to Moses.

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed: “YUD-HEH-VAV-HEH!!! Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh is God (El), merciful and compassionate (rachum v’channun), slow to anger (erech apayim), rich in grace (chesed) and truth (emet);showing grace (chesed) to the thousandth generation (for thousands), forgiving offenses (avon), crimes (pesha) and sins (chatta’ah); yet not exonerating the guilty, but causing the negative effects (avon) of the parents’ offenses (avot) to be experienced by their children (banim) and grandchildren (bnei banim), and even by the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:6-7).

Yahweh!  Yahweh! 

He speaks His name twice as a sign of His compassion before a person sins and his  compassion after a person sins.  Whenever a word in Hebrew is repeated twice, it is symbolic of the establishment of a witness of two and cannot be changed.

“God said further to Moshe, “Say this to the people of Isra’el: ‘Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh[the LORD], the God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitz’chak and the God of Ya‘akov, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; this is how I am to be remembered generation after generation” (Exodus 3:15).

God – El

El is the Hebrew word meaning ‘God’ and He is known as ElohimEl is ‘mighty or powerful’ (El Shaddai) in His compassion and gives all creatures according to their need (El Yireh).

“El Shaddai, who will bless you with blessings from heaven above, blessings from the deep, lying below, blessings from the breasts and the womb” (Genesis 49:25).

“Avraham called the place Adonai Yir’eh [Adonai will see (to it), Adonai provides] — as it is said to this day, “On the mountain Adonai is seen” (Genesis 22:14).


El is  ‘compassionate’ in the sense that He eases the punishment of the guilty and does not put people into extreme temptation.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:15).


El is ‘gracious,’ even to the underserving.  He helps and consoles the afflicted and raises up the oppressed.

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror” (Psalm 10:17-18).

Erech apayim

El is ‘patient and slow to anger’ so that the sinner can reconsider his sins and need for repentance before it’s too late.

“Adonai is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and great in grace” (Psalm 145:8).

Rav chesed

El is ‘abundant kindness’ especially towards those who lack personal merits.  His ‘loving kindness’ is so great that even if the scales of good and evil are evenly balanced, He tips them towards good.

I did not hide your righteousness in my heart but declared your faithfulness and salvation; I did not conceal your grace and truth from the great assembly” (Psalm 40:10).


El is ‘truth’.  God never reneges on His Word, remains true to Himself and His attributes and El speaking the Truth in love.

“Your righteousness is eternal righteousness, and your Torah is truth” (Psalm 119:142).

Notzer chesed laalafim

El is ‘merciful’ unto thousands.  This is also translated to ‘thousands of generations’ because the deeds of the righteous benefit their offspring far into the future.

“Know therefore that Yahweh your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Noseh avon

El  ‘forgives iniquity’; the intentions of the heart, the intentions of the sinner, the failings of mankind if there is repentance.

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

Va  peshah

El ‘forgives transgressions’ or the willful sin.  Even those who purposely anger El through malice and rebellion are allowed to repent.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11).

Ve chatah

El ‘forgives sin and error’ or  sin committed out of carelessness, apathy or complacency.

“But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12).

Ve nakeh

El ‘cleanses.  God wipes away the sins of those who repent, but He will not allow the guilty to pass unpunished. He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of those that hate him.

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7)

“May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out” (Psalm 109:14).

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