Exo 34.6-7 gives us a list of the attributes of God called the Middot (virtues, values). We are going to go over these attributes briefly, using the Hertz Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 364-365, and where it says “adonay” in his comments, we will substitute that for Yehovah. Hertz’s comments begin with, “proclaimed…God reveals the name of the Lord, i.e. his characteristic qualities, to Moses. The Rabbis held that there are thirteen distinct attributes in these two verses; though there are differences as to their precise enumeration. The enumeration in the following comments is in accordance with the views of Rabbenu Tam, Ibn ezra, Mendelsohn and Reggio.
the Lord, the Lord…Hebrew Yehovah, Yehovah (1 and 2)); Yehovah denotes God in his attribute of mercy; and the repetition is explained in the Talmud as meaning ‘I am the merciful God before a man commits a sin, and I am the same merciful and forgiving God after a man has sinned. Whatever change has to be wrought, must be in the heart of the sinner; not in the nature of the Deity. He is the same after a man has sinned, as he was before a man has sinned.’
God…Hebrew El (3); the all-mighty Lord of the Universe, ruler of nature and mankind.
merciful…Hebrew rachum (4); full of affectionate sympathy for the sufferings and miseries of human frailty.
and gracious…Hebrew ve-channun (5); assisting and helping; consoling the afflicted and raising the oppressed. ‘In man these two qualities manifest themselves fitfully and temporarily. He is m’rachun ve-channun. It is otherwise with God; in him, compassion and grace are permanent, inherent and necessary emanations of his nature. Hence, he alone can be spoken of as rachun ve-channun (Mendelsohn).
long-suffering… or slow to anger. Hebrew erech appayim (6); not hastening to punish the sinner, but affording him the opportunities to retrace his evil courses.
abundant in goodness…or plenteous in mercy. Hebrew rav chessed (7); granting his gifts and blessings beyond the deserts of man.
and truth…Hebrew ve’emet (8); eternally true to himself, pursuing his inscrutable plans for the salvation of mankind, and rewarding those who are obedient to his will. Note that ‘chessed’, lovingkindness, preceded ’emet’, truth, both here and generally throughout Scripture; as if to say, ‘speak the truth by all means; but be quite sure that you speak the truth in love.’
keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation…Hebrew notzer chessed la-alafim (9). Remembering the good deeds of the ancestors to the thousandth generation, and reserving reward and recompense to the remotest descendants.
forgiving iniquity…Hebrew noseh avon (10); bearing with indulgence the failings of man, and by forgiveness restoring him to the original purity of his soul. The Hebrew for iniquity is avon; sins committed from evil disposition.
transgression…Hebrew pesha (11); evil deeds springing from malice and rebellion against the Divine.
sin…Hebrew chatah (12); shortcomings due to heedlessness and error.
will by no means clear the guilty. i.e. he will not allow the guilty to go unpunished. Hebrew venakeh lo yenakeh (13). The Rabbis explain: venakeh ‘acquitting the penitent; lo yenakeh, but not acquitting the impenitent.’ He is merciful and gracious and forgiving; but he will never obliterate the eternal and unbridgeable distinction between light and darkness, between good and evil. God cannot leave repeated wickedness and obstinate persistence in evil entirely unpunished. His goodness cannot destroy his justice. The sinner must suffer the consequences of his misdeeds. The unfailing and impartial consequences of sin help man to perceive that there is no ‘chance’ in morals. The punishment of sin are thus not vindictive, but remedial.
visiting… upon the children. This law relates only to the consequences of sin. Pardon is not the remission of the penalty, but the forgiveness of the guilt and the removal of the sinfulness. The misdeeds of those who are God’s enemies are visited only to the third and fourth generation, whereas his mercy to those who love him is unto the thousand generations.”
Exo 34.8 is a key verse for where we are going, especially where it says “And take us as thine own inheritance.” In the Temple there were four corner buildings and thirteen gates. One of these gates on the south side, between Beit Ha Otzrot and Beit Avtinas, was called the Sha’ar Ha Bikarot (Gate of the First-born). This has to do with the the statement in Exo 34.8 that we just mentioned above. God is going to make a covenant in Exo 34.10 that he will perform miracles like nothing they have ever seen. They are to observe what he has commanded. This is because they are a people with a kedusha and the commandments are the limitations and restrictions that come with the kedusha.
In Exo 34.11-18 he tells them to avoid making covenants with the other nations. They were to tear down their mazavot (sacred pillars) and the Asherim. They were not to worship other gods, sacrifice to other gods nor eat something sacrificed to other gods. They were not to take on or cause their children to play the harlot with other gods, nor make molten gods.
Now, Elijah told the people in 1 Kings 20.21 “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? Of the Lord is God, follow him; but if Ba’al, follow him.” But don’t mix the worship of Ba’al with the worship of Yehovah. Paganism is better than mixing it with the worship of God. Basically God is telling them to worship him and not mix in elements from other nations. They were to be a distinct (with a kedusha) people and they were not to bring in these foreign elements into their worship.
Exo 34.19-20 says, “The first offspring from every womb belongs to me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep. And you shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem all the first-born of your sons and none shall appear before me empty-handed.”
Exo 34.21-26 talks about the Sabbath, Shavuot and Sukkot. We have the Shelosh Regalim referred to (three “foot” or pilgrim festivals of Unleavened Bread, Shavuot and Sukkot). The Lord says that he is going to drive out the nations and nobody will covet their land when come up to the Lord three times a year, so they are not to worry about that when they come to worship. They were not to offer blood with leavened bread with the korbanot, and they were not to leave the passover lamb overnight. They were to bring in the first fruits of the soil into the Temple and they were not to “boil (bashal) a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exo 23.19; Deut 14.21).
These passages seem like he is talking about a variety of subjects. They seem like random thoughts but they are all connected with the concept of the first-born. In tefillin boxes there are four Scriptures: Exo 13.1-10, 11-16; Deut 6.4-9 and 11.13-21. In the first two passages we read about the importance of the first-born. The concept of the first-born played a role in the life of Joseph who acted as the “bikur” (first-born) and Israel in the Exodus as “bikur.” The first-born plays a role in the tenth plague, and if you are a bikur, what is your responsibility? We have a gate in the Temple that is named after the first-born, and we have the two passages in the tefillin. All of these are connected.
The first-born is more important than most people give it. God says it is important, and we must understand what it means. Being a bikur does not rely solely on birth order. We see this many times in Scripture where a child in a family can emerge as a child leader. It doesn’t matter where they were in the birth order. Being a bikur has less to do with biology as it does with the role you play in the family.
That is why Israel is not the oldest of the nations but has the status of bikur because of the role they play among those nations. This is a significant concept that must be understood to get a proper foundation in the Tanak, and all of the Scriptures for that matter. Israel must not think they are better than everyone else, they cannot have an attitude like that. They can’t think “I have this relationship with the parent and I am better than you.” Israel is a bikur for the benefit of the others (Exo 4.22).
Israel must realize that God is interested in all people, and must not reflect their mission to the other nations. They were the “salt of the earth and the light of the world.” Sorry Christianity, this does not apply to you! It was through them the world would hear about the creator God, sin, redemption through the Messiah and faith. The world must know the truth. When Israel neglected their mission as the bikur, the world suffered.
In each family, the bikur was the “priest” and God said as much in Exo 19.6. Priesthood is going to be equivalant to the first-born. The family of Aaron took the place of the first-born and they became the priests to the nation, but the first-born remained a priest in the family.
In Part 63 we will pick up here and then explain the real meaning of the verse that says “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”