This Shabbat is Shabbat Shuvah – The Shabbat that falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in the midst of our High Holy Days. These are the ten days in which we are on a higher spiritual plane – having begun our reflections of our deeds in the past year and leading to a plea for atonement for the times we hurt others, hurt ourselves, and fell short of the level of behavior we set out to attain at this time one year ago. However, we are encouraged through prayer and the sayings of our sages not to despair –we can improve ourselves and come closer to those ideals we strive to reach.
In this week’s parashah (Vayeilech Deut. 31:1 – 30), Moses is approaching his death. The passage begins with the passing on of leadership to Joshua. One might think that, after forty years of looking to Moses as their leader, a change of leadership might have disturbed the people, especially being on the brink of entering the land they have been promised, but will probably have to fight for.
Through Moses, God assures the people of success in occupying the Promised Land, but goes on to foretell a time when the people, becoming comfortable in the land, will forsake the teachings of God. God then will turn away from the people, and misfortune will befall them. However, God promises not to forget the covenant with the people. The instrument of their redemption will be a poem, dictated to Moses and recited by Moses to the people. Upon reflection of this poem, the people will realize the reasons for their misfortune, and return to the ways of God.
It is interesting to think of this poem as passing on from generation to generation – memorized, recited and pondered. How many of the holiday prayers, readings, and songs stay with us throughout our lives. How comforting is it to hear, once again, our favorite melodies, readings and reflections that reach our minds, hearts and souls.
However, there are those new melodies that reach us as well – just as new leaders and members within our sisterhoods add a greater variety and a fresh outlook. As we cherish our past, we must also look to our future – open to new ideas and possibilities.
This week, as we make our way from reflection to atonement let us look forward to the coming years and strive to reach the best within us, as individuals and within our sisterhoods, for ourselves, our families and our communities.