The Thirteenth and final Level of mercy carries an absolute guarantee: one who masters this level can forgive anyone. The Thirteenth Level renders all the earlier levels unnecessary, but there’s a big catch: the Thirteenth Level is spiritually exhausting, and can only be sustained for brief periods of time. It requires phenomenal concentration and a massive investment of personal energy, and as such it should only be invoked when all other levels prove insufficient.
The theory is simple, the technique complex. The basic idea of the Thirteenth Level is that no matter how despicable a person has become, there was certainly a time when that person was completely innocent. No matter how damaged the relationship, there was a time when it was new and healthy. Contemplating that moment of innocence is the essence of the Thirteenth Level, which Rabbi Cordovero calls “the level that contains all previous levels.”
Behold, this is a trait of God for the Jewish people: when they have exhausted the merit of their ancestors and the like, what does God do? Behold, based on merit alone, they are unworthy. It is written: I remembered you, the kindness of your youth, the love when you were a bride.
God literally remembers the early days, the love that once was, and shows mercy to the Jewish people. In this manner God recalls for their benefit all the commandments they performed from the day they were born, and all the positive attributes through which God causes the universe to function for them. Out of all this, God creates a special method to show them mercy, a level that includes all of the previous levels, as is explained in the Idra. So too should a person perfect one’s dealings with other people. Even if one cannot find any reason from all of the preceding, one should say, “there was once a time when this person did not sin. At that moment, or in those early days, this person was good.” One should think of the good things the other person did as a child, and recall the love that one has for a child who is yet nursing. With this method, one will not be able to find a person who is undeserving of benefit, unworthy of prayer and mercy.
Henry Abramson serves as Dean of the mighty Avenue J campus of Touro College. A specialist in Jewish history and thought, he is the author of several works, most recently Torah from the Years of Wrath 1939-1943: The Historical Context of the Aish Kodesh. His online lectures in Jewish history are available at henryabramson.com.
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