Selichos, those special holy prayers said on fast days and many times on Yom Kippur, they are said every day of this month in the wee hours, before the sun comes up. Selichos literally translated means forgivenesses and it is a compilation of special prayers asking Hashem to forgive us. All the prayers, however, center around one central paragraph, which is the thirteen attributes to G-d called the Yud-Gimmel Middos of Hashem.
When G-d forgave the Jews after Chayt Ha’Egel [sin of the Golden Calf], G-d told Moshe that in every generation when there is judgment against the Jews, they should “do” the 13 Middos and Hashem will forgive them. Notice it says ‘if they do’ not ‘if they say’. When we say Selichos, we are not just supposed to list how great Hashem is and how much He forgives. The point is to try to be better people. How? By trying to imitate Hashem’s ways. G-d told Moshe that we should DO the thirteen Middos to get forgiveness. Therefore, during Elul we should try to each day take on at least one characteristic of the Yud-Gimmel Middos. Here they are [please note that the first word in every paragraph below is the word from the Yud Gimmel Middos for one trait]:
1. Ado=nai – G-d forgives before the sin – Hashem allows us the option to make mistakes – He gives us chances in life. How can we imitate? Try to give folks a chance even if you think they will mess up.
2. Ado=nai – G-d forgives after the sin – the person’s value does not diminish. Just because a friend of ours messed up, we should still keep their value at the same level as before they messed up.
3. Kel – Hashem has mercy on those who sin by ensuring their survival
4. Rachum – Compassionate – even as someone needs to be punished, G-d does it with pity and G-d does not put people into temptation that they cannot withstand. How can we do this: even when we need to rebuke someone, we should do it as gently as possible and feel their pain and we should not tempt others to sin.
5. Chanun – G-d gives freely things we don’t deserve. How many of us deserve our eyesight, etc. None of us – its given for free. Get in the habit of doing favors for others and being nice to them, expecting nothing in return and even if they don’t deserve it.
6. Erech Apayim – slow to anger. Don’t jump to anger.
7. V’Rav Chesed – Hashem does MUCH kindness. Be kind to others and notice it says RAV – don’t settle for the minimum – do A WHOLE BUNCH of chesed. Olam Chesed Yibaneh – a world of Chesed you should build. Chesed is the only leg of our world still standing and we should pour our energies here.
8. V’Emes – truthful. You say you’ll do something, come through on your promises.
9. Notzer Chesed L’Alafim – G-d remembers the good done. Try to focus on what good others have done to you, show appreciation, don’t ever forget their good.
10, 11 & 12. Nosay Avon, Vpesha, V’Chata – G-d forgives three categories of sins. We should do the same. Example – someone steps on your toe accidentally, you forgive them. First level. Someone bonks you on the head on purpose. Forgive them too, that is second level. Somebody who knows how much you hate the bonking on the head, bonks you on the head just to get you angry. Forgive them too – that is the third level.
13. V’Nakeh – and washes away. Hashem cleans up after our messes. When we repent, Hashem erases that part of the DVD of our life so it is as if that sin never happened. We should be able to move past other folks’s mistakes and treat them as if they never messed up. And especially important – we have to do the same for ourselves – we have to learn to forgive ourselves for our mistakes and not keep beating ourselves up emotionally every time we mess up. Mess up? Fine, feel bad, repent and then move past it, V’Nakeh, treat yourself well and don’t make yourself an emotional mess from it. If G-d can forgive you, you can forgive yourself too.