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The Gemara in Rosh HaShanah 17b states that HaShem told Moshe Rabbeinu that whenever the Jews sin, they should recite the 13 Middos and they will be forgiven.

Why do we say the 13 Middos so often during the Selichos before Rosh Hashanah, during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and on Yom Kippur itself? If HaShem promised us that we just need to say it and we’ll be forgiven, we should just say it once and we’ll be good to go.

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    Presumably it's not magic; saying it so many times might mean we get it right at least once... – Isaac Kotlicky Oct 1 '17 at 3:21
  • @IsaacKotlicky Yet we say you shouldn’t repeat the first Bracha of Shemoneh Esrei if you don’t have the proper kavanah, because you probably will mess it up the second time also... – DonielF Oct 1 '17 at 3:29
  • Different issue. There it's a problem of brocha levatala. Here you at worst are reciting a possuk. – Isaac Kotlicky Oct 1 '17 at 3:30
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    But you're still acting as a tzibbur, which is muttar. – Isaac Kotlicky Oct 1 '17 at 3:32
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    @IsaacKotlicky Okay, new track. :) The Gemara does seem to imply that it’s magic, though clearly that’s not how anything in Judaism works. So I guess the first question to ask is: how does it work? – DonielF Oct 1 '17 at 3:34
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See this article by Rabbi Frand, where he discusses the related question of why it is that we do not always see the recital of the 13 middot actually being effective in practice.

He quotes two basic approaches:

  1. The Reishis Chochmah explains that the gemara referred to in the question is not actually talking about reciting the 13 Middos, but emulating them. This is inferred from the phrase ya-asu lefanai k’seder hazeh literally that they should do (i.e. act like) this list of middot.

  2. The Imrei Binah mantains that the gemara is indeed referring to reciting the middot, but that is only a necessary condition. In addition, one needs to have the mindset of a "shaliach tzibbur" i.e. to be praying on behalf of others as well as oneself.

I think you can use either of these approaches to answer the question here:

  1. We repeat the 13 middot over and over during Elul and the Yamim Noraim to drill into ourselves these attributes of Hashem which we are to emulate.

  2. We repeat them to give ourselves multiple chances of reciting them (at least once) with the feelings and prayers for others, which are required for them to "work".

  • The problem is if it means perform these attributes, then there is no source to recite it. The traditional recitation is based on a reading of the Gemara contrary to that of the Geonim and Rishonim upon which the recitation is based. – mevaqesh Oct 1 '17 at 18:03
  • I understand that the simple reading of the Gemara is not this way, but why can't these opinions understand the recitation as a way to remind us to act in accord with the middot? Is your question based on the paragraph of Kel Melech Yoshev? – Joel K Oct 1 '17 at 18:40
  • The fact that the simple reading of the Gemara is not like this is a separate problem. My point was that the first answer can't be the explanation for saying the 13, since saying the 13 in the first place is according to the other opinion. No the question is not based on the paragraph of el melekh yoshev, but that is a good point as well. That paragraph indicates that the reason to say the 13 is that that is what God indicated, clearly following the Geonim/Rishonim's reading, rather than the cute reading. – mevaqesh Oct 1 '17 at 18:53
  • How do you know (apart from Kel Melech Yoshev) for what reason we recite them? Maybe the explanation of the Gemara is the "cute" one, and the reason it was instituted that we say them is to teach us how we ought to be acting? – Joel K Oct 1 '17 at 19:47
  • How do you know it was instituted to say it???? – mevaqesh Oct 1 '17 at 20:01
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When we say the 13 Middos, we are promised that they will not go unanswered, not that we will be forgiven for all of our sins. Even if our sins are not forgiven, they will still help in some other way (like healing a sick person, etc.) So we say the 13 Middos as often as we can so that maybe some of them will forgive our sins.

  • Are you referring to the selicha? This doesn't answer the Gemara. – DonielF Oct 2 '17 at 18:46
  • The Gemara does not say 'they will be forgiven for all their sins', but rather 'they will be forgiven'. They will be forgiven for something; a change will take place for the good. – Rafael Oct 2 '17 at 19:01
  • I'm not sure I follow the difference between "forgiven" and "forgiven for their sins." Sure, it does say "einah chozeres reikam - they won't be returned empty-handed," but you still need to deal with the wording of "mochel." – DonielF Oct 2 '17 at 19:08
  • The Gemara says ואני מוחל להם, 'And I will forgive them'. It does not say all of our sins will be forgiven, just 'And I will forgive them'. – Rafael Oct 3 '17 at 1:29
  • What’s going to be forgiven if not sins? – DonielF Oct 3 '17 at 1:46

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