Beginning with the midnight/early morning selichot prayers, recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of divine mercy will be an integral part of our prayers in the coming weeks.
The well-known words of the Thirteen Attributes, Adonai, Adonai, El Rachum V'chanun, are spoken by God in Exodus 34 as He forgives Israel for the sin of the golden calf. The Talmud gives an astonishing elaboration of what went on at that moment: "God wrapped himself like a prayer leader and taught Moses this order of prayer, so that whenever Israel sins they would say this order and be forgiven" (Rosh Hashanah 17b).
According to the Talmud, God, so to speak, was modelling how to pray for forgiveness. Is it magic? Do we only have to say the words and all will be fine? No, the Talmud goes on to makes clear that teshuvah, repentance, is required. The attributes of mercy tell us that God is there waiting to embrace us after we have sinned if we return to Him.