Shabbat Parashat Vayelekh Shabbat Shuvah Strength and Courage

Dear Friends,

Shabbat Shuvah is the Shabbat of Repentance or, some might say, it is the Shabbat of Return. In any case, this special Shabbat helps us bridge the gap between Rosh HaShana, when we pray for life, and Yom Kippur, when we pray for greater insight as we move forward into the new Jewish year.

However we may choose to translate Shabbat Shuvah, it is clear that in order to move forward in a constructive way, we would be well served if we could come to terms with the past. If we remember our difficulties, we can hope to carve out a present of contemplation and then prepare a path for our future.

This Shabbat, in addition to our individual difficult moments, we also remember 9/11.

How do we deal with painful memories? How can we move from memory to renewed purpose?

Our weekly Torah portion, Vayelekh, offers some valuable insight.

In our Torah portion, Moses is at the end of his life. He is looking for a way to bridge the gap between the story of our people in the desert, his impending death, and the continuation of the story of our people when they enter the Promised Land. Moses instructs Joshua, who will take over the leadership of the people upon Moses’ death: Chazak v’Ematz – be strong and have courage. Moses also tells the people: Chizku v’Imtzu – be strong and have courage.

When we need strength, we can turn, or return, to God, to Torah, to community and to our Jewish values to find wisdom and guidance. But, sometimes, we are still unsure that we have sufficient strength to confront our challenges. That is when we need courage. Courage gives us the ability to move forward even when we do not feel sufficiently strong.

Our Penitential Psalm (Psalm 27), recited daily through the Jewish month of Elul and beyond, until after Sukkot, echoes the same theme:

Kaveh el Adonai, chazak v’y’ametz libecha; v’kaveh el Adonai” – Place your hope in Adonai, be strong and have courage; and place your hope in Adonai.

Moses knew that we don’t always feel strong. He, himself, did not always feel strong and confident. Yet, he found enough strength and courage to lead our people for 40 years and then to pass on the leadership to Joshua with the same advice: Be strong and have courage. This is Moses’ wisdom, and this is the wisdom of Torah.

Remembering and coming to terms with the past, contemplating our present, and constructing a plan for our future is the path of healing that will help us all deal with painful memories as we craft our spiritual pathways forward for the new Jewish year of 5782.

As we move forward through the Ten Days of Repentance, through Shabbat Shuvah, and on to Yom Kippur, may we and our loved ones all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!

Rabbi Gilah Dror