This Shabbat, Shabbat Shuvah [the Shabbat of Return] gets its name from the beginning of the special haftarah that we read on the Shabbat between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. This haftarah begins with the words of the prophet Hosea (14:2): “Shuvah, Yisrael, ad Adonai Elohecha…[Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God…].”
In our weekly Torah portion, VaYelech, we learn of Moses’ final testament to our people before his death. Moses’ foresees a time when our people might abandon God and God’s covenant, and reassures our people that the way back will always be open, if we truly seek it.
Interestingly, our Sages imagined that it is possible to abandon either God, or God’s covenant (that is: Torah), and not necessarily both! In fact, our Sages imagine that abandoning the idea of closeness to God is not as detrimental to our people, or to the individual Jewish person, as abandoning the Torah. Their reasoning was that Torah includes wisdom for the ages – mitzvot that help us to live a better, more value-driven life. And, if we heed words of Torah, those words, those deeds, those mitzvoth that we fulfill, may yet lead us back to a belief in our own connection to God.
Torah, in and of itself, reminds us to grapple honestly with questions, to stand up for what is right, to work on finding ways of peace and of respect for all human beings.
We are so fortunate as to have this amazing gift from God, whether we believe in our connection to God or not, for this is the heart and core of our Jewish identity!
One of the greatest gifts Moses left for us are the words that are repeated several times, in various grammatical forms, in our parsha, and in Psalm 27 (the Penitential Psalm), “Chazak v’Ematz [Be strong and courageous].” Moses faced many storms in his life, yet he stood firm in his belief in the great value of Torah, and encouraged our people to face whatever storms they may face in life with the help of the strength and courage that Torah can give us as a people and as individuals.
May we face all of our storms, guided by the wisdom of Torah, with strength and with courage.
May we be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.
And, may we be blessed with a Shabbat Shalom and a good new year!
Rabbi Gilah Dror
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