A Measure of Mercy

At the beginning of the Talmud, in tractate Berachot, there is a curious question — What is God’s prayer? The Rabbis answer that God prays, “May My mercy overcome My anger.”

When our tradition speaks of God, it is also teaching something about humanity. For this is a version of our Yom Kippur prayer.  No individual is composed entirely of mercy, or of kindness, or of anger, or of impatience. Experience has taught us that we cannot eradicate deep parts of ourselves and make them vanish as if they never existed. What we can do is encourage other parts until they predominate.

In a deep sense, the prayer that the Rabbis attribute to God is a  prayer we need to offer on Yom Kippur. We, too, pray that the best parts of our souls prove stronger than the worst. We, too, try to develop the characteristics that enable others to love us and hold us close. We, too, try to suppress or redirect those aspects of character that pose challenges to intimacy, to goodness, to spiritual growth.

Dear God, in this coming year, may our mercy prove stronger than our anger, our kindness stronger than our cruelty, our love stronger than our hate.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.