Steps 5,6,7: Forbearance

Admitted to G-d, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Were entirely ready to have G-d remove all these defects of character.

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

G-d’s “Secret”

So, G-d is powerful and G-d is kind. G-d can be trusted and relied upon to carry us through whatever ups and downs life brings. But all of this assumes that our relationship with Him is in proper order. What if we have severed or damaged our connection to G-d? Can it be repaired? Is G-d willing to give us a second chance?

In Steps Five, Six and Seven, the recovering addict is guided through a process of removing the blockages that impede his or her connection to G-d. The very fact that this process is prescribed implies that G-d, for His part, is willing to restore a damaged relationship. Thus, in these Steps, we are given to understand that G-d is tolerant and forgiving. As the prophet Ezekiel exhorted the people, “[G-d] takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn away from their ways and live….” (Ez. 33:11)

The fact that G-d is willing to have a relationship with imperfect beings is not an idea that should be taken for granted. To wit, it was only after Moses beseeched G-d to forgive the people for the seemingly unforgivable sin of the Golden Calf that G-d revealed to Moses the “Secret of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.” G-d told Moses that whenever the people were in need of compassion, they could invoke His Attributes of Mercy by enumerating them as follows: “G-d, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in kindness and truth; preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity, willful sin and error and Who cleanses…” (Exodus 34:6-7) The Talmud says, “Were this not an explicit verse, we could never have said such a thing on our own.” In other words, if G-d Himself had not divulged this secret to Moses, we would have no reason to just assume that G-d is willing to bear our imperfections.

In addition to these verses in Exodus, the Zohar points to another passage in Scripture that also contains Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. The “Superior Thirteen Attributes,” as they are called, are found in the writings of the prophet, Micha (7:18-20): "Who is a G-d like You who bears transgression and pardons the wrongdoing of the remnant of His inheritance? [He] does not sustain His anger forever, for He desires loving kindness. He will once more have compassion on us [and] forget our transgressions, and [He] will hurl all our sins into the depths of the ocean. Grant truth to Jacob and loving kindness to Abraham as You vowed to our forefathers long ago."

The 16th century kabbalist, Moses Cordovero, elucidates the meaning of each of these attributes as follows:

1. “Who is a G-d like You” – G-d enlivens us even when we choose to misappropriate this energy.

2. “Who bears transgression” – G-d protects us from being consumed by the negativity we have unleashed, thus giving us the opportunity to return to Him.

3. “And pardons the wrongdoing” – When we return to Him, G-d cleanses us.

4. “Of the remnant of His heritage” – G-d empathizes with our pain, for we are His “inheritance.”

5. “[He] does not sustain His anger forever” – G-d allows Himself to be appeased.

6. “For He desires loving kindness” – G-d lovingly emphasizes our merits, not our deficiencies.

7. “He will once more have compassion on us” – G-d grants a fresh start to those who return to Him.

8. “[And] forget our transgressions” – G-d chooses to “forget” our past misdeeds so that they do not interfere with our present relationship with Him.

9. “And [He] will hurl all our sins into the depths of the ocean” – G-d views our mistakes as expendable.

10. “Grant truth to Jacob” – G-d is kind even to those who only uphold the basic letter of the law which is personified by Jacob.

11. “And loving kindness to Abraham” – G-d displays generosity, as did our forefather, Abraham.

12. “As You vowed to our forefathers” – G-d conveys merit upon us that is not our own but that of our ancestors.

13. “Long ago” – When not even the merit of our ancestors is sufficient, G-d remembers His original love for His people.

Open and Approachable

It is clear from the wording of Steps 5, 6 and 7 that their aim is not to win forgiveness or expiation of guilt but rather to fully restore one’s relationship with G-d. Judaism calls this process kaparah which means cleansing or atonement and is very different than forgiveness. As soon as a person mends his or her ways (and makes restitution where necessary) G-d immediately forgives. But that does not mean that the damage to the relationship has been repaired. For instance, if a man’s teenage son takes the car out without permission and gets into a fender bender, the father may not punish the boy if he is sufficiently contrite, but that does not mean that the father’s full trust for the son has been reinstated. Forgiveness means the waving of punishment. Atonement is reconciliation. Indeed, the origin of the word atonement is “at-one-ment” – the state of being “at one” with G-d.

Steps 5, 6 and 7 indicate that G-d makes Himself available for reconciliation. Just as we want to be “at one” with Him, He wants to be “at one” with us and is ready to accept us. This is unmistakably the sentiment that underlies the 7th Step Prayer:

“My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that You now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 76)

Clearly, this prayer is offered to a G-d who can be counted upon to accept all those who seek Him sincerely. In the words of King David, “…a broken and a contrite heart, You G-d, will not despise.” (Psalms 51:19).

A Dynamic Relationship

On the other hand, the prayer also makes clear that although G-d is open to our advances if we should turn to Him, He does not force us to choose a relationship with Him. He waits for us to be ready and willing. This brings us to appreciate another aspect of our concept of G-d – His humility.

G-d makes the process of reunion and reconciliation conditional on our approaching Him. He waits for us to be ready. That means that rather than dominating us, G-d allows us to have an active and defining role in our relationship with Him. In the case of Steps 5,6 and 7: We have to be truthful with Him about our faults (Step 5); we have to be ready to change (Step 6); we have to ask for His help (Step 7). In short, just as G-d grants us the freedom to stray from Him, He gives us the freedom to seek means of returning.

We might say that G-d has chosen to enter into a dynamic partnership with His creations. There is a Chasidic interpretation of the verse (Gen. 1:26) “And G-d said, ‘Let us make man…” as G-d’s call to each of us. G-d invites the individual to join Him in the process of his own development as a human being. We can now add another quality to our conception of G-d. He is the Infinite who makes room for and grants freewill to those who are finite.

Shais Taub

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