Shabbat Shuvah’s ‘thread of grace’ is always with us


The final three pasukim of Sefer Michah are found in this week’s haftarah, as well as immediately after the recitation of Sefer Yonah on Yom Kippur afternoon:

Who is a G-d like You, Who forgives iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His anger forever, for He desires loving-kindness. He shall return and grant us compassion; He shall hide our iniquities, and You shall cast into the depths of the sea all their sins. You shall give the truth of Jacob, the loving-kindness of Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from days of yore.

It appears that Chazal enacted the dual public reading of this passage based on its ability to convey some of the major ideas inherent in our encounter with the Almighty on Yom Kippur. In brief, it contains the following six ideas:

•Hashem cannot be compared to any entity.

•The Almighty forgives avon (iniquity) and even pardons pesha (rebellious transgression).

•Hashem does not sustain his anger against us, for “He desires loving-kindness.”

•Just as we return unto our Creator (teshuvah), He will return unto us and treat us with great mercy.

•The Holy One blessed be He will hide our iniquities from His view and metaphorically toss them into the depths of the sea.

“Titane emet l’Ya’akov chesed l’Avraham asher nishbata l’avoteinu mimai kedem.” (You shall give the truth of Jacob, the loving-kindness of Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from days of yore.)

The first five statements are not unique to Sefer Michah, as they appear in various formulations in the Tanach. In contrast, “titane emet l’Ya’akov chesed l’Avraham” introduces a new theme regarding our relationship with the Almighty.

In his gloss on the 13 Attributes of Mercy presented in his Commentary on the Torah, the Abarbanel explains our phrase in this manner: “This means that [Hashem] will fulfill His attestation to Ya’akov, namely, the chesed that He had promised to perform for Avraham, for from this chesed will come forth the emet, and the fulfillment to Ya’akov and his descendants who are the offspring of Avraham the chosen one; and this is the inner meaning of the Torah’s expression, [Hashem] Who is great in chesed v’emet” (Shemot 34)

Based upon his comparison of the Torah’s description of Hashem as He “Who is great in chesed v’emet,” wherein chesed is stated before emet, to Michah’s phrase, which reverses this order, the Abarbanel suggests that emet l’Ya’akov is the outcome of the chesed that Hashem promised to do on Avraham’s behalf.

He expands and clarifies this idea in his commentary on the fourth chapter of Sefer Yonah: “And the substance of this verse [titane emet l’Ya’akov] is that the Holy One blessed be He will give the emet l’Ya’akov by bestowing upon Avraham’s descendants the chesed that he gave to him, namely, the inheritance of the Land of the Seven Nations [Israel].

It is as if the verse was stated, “You shall give the emet of Ya’akov from the chesed that you performed for Avraham. [And] just as You performed chesed for him [Avraham] when he stood at the Brit bein HaBetarim, the Covenant of the Pieces, may the emet [be] the fulfillment of this covenant for all Ya’akov’s future offspring.”

In this exegetical tour de force, the Abarbanel provides us with a powerful insight into the relationship that obtains between the chesed of Avraham and the emet of Ya’akov. In his view, the emet of Ya’akov (the everlasting gift of Eretz Yisrael to Ya’akov’s descendants) results from the chesed Hashem performed for Avraham at the Brit bein HaBetarim.

This unbreakable chut shel chesed (thread of grace) is inextricably interwoven into the very essence of the Jewish people. In addition, given our passage’s inclusion in the haftarah of Shabbat Shuvah and its role as the postscript to Maftir Yonah, it is clear it reflects the intrinsic nature of Yom Kippur as well.

Perhaps this is the reason Chazal ordained that we conclude tefilat Neilah with the stirring words, “l’shanah habah b’Yerushalayim.” With the Almighty’s help and our fervent desire, may this time come soon and in our days. V’chane yihi ratzon.

Shabbat Shalom, G’mar Chatimah Tovah, and may Hashem in His great mercy remove the magafah from klal Yisrael and from all the nations of the world.