According Rabbi Eliezer, in Tractate Shabbat 153a of the Babylonian Talmud, we are obligated to engage in t’shuvah all the days of our lives. I am proud to be part of a community that demonstrates this commitment to chesbon ha’nefesh (accounting of the soul) on an on-going basis.
This Shabbat, which falls between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is commonly known as Shabbat T’Shuvah. It is the mid-point between the Rosh HaShanah spirit of (re)creation and renewal and the solemn spirit of surrender, judgement, and forgiveness that envelopes Yom Kippur. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel beautifully addresses how t’shuvah stands at the intersection of these two spiritual poles in his book Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity:
The most unnoticed of all miracles is the miracle of t’shuvah. It is not the same as rebirth; it is transformation, creation. In the dimension of time there is no going back. But the power of t’shuvah causes time to be created backwards and allows re-creation of the past to take place. Through the forgiving hand of G!D, harm and blemish which we have committed against the world and against ourselves will be extinguished, transformed into salvation. (pp. 69-70)
Understood through this perspective, t’shuvah becomes a process of innovation, creation, and growth. However, growth and development are often experienced with frequent moments of discomfort and occasional moments of pain – which can also be our experience during these ten in-between days. As uncomfortable as that may be (and it is), Rabbi Heschel points out that t’shuvah only occurs with the “forgiving hand of G!D.” So, while a continued commitment to engaging in the process of t’shuvah is one of the grounding forces that keeps me moving forward, I am comforted that it also deepens my partnership with G!D.
This week’s Torah portion, Va Yeilekh, provides some timely perspectives for navigating the ups and downs of the t’shuvah process. In the Torah narrative, we are on the cusp of the end of the Moses’ story (and of the Torah). Moses is continuing his final address to the Israelites, whom he has lead for the past 40-plus years. When I read the text, I imagine Moses experiencing a multitude of conflicting feelings while delivering these final words of encouragement, inspiration, and warning. I suspect he was carrying a sense of deep concern and angst that the Israelites still weren’t equipped to handle the challenges they would soon be facing. Even more so, on a personal level, I imagine him experiencing a deep sense of sadness, anger, and loss. Immersed in all these feelings, it’s hard to imagine being able connect to the sense of relief, accomplishment, and completion that awaits him on the other side of this transition.
Joshua, Moses’ designated successor, is likely going through his own volatile and emotional process. Despite the support provided by G!D – who told him: “Be strong and resolute; for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them on oath, and I will be with you.” (Deut. 31:23) – and by Moses, Joshua is struggling with apprehension and fear. More disconnection. Fortunately, through their personalized programs of growth and spiritual transition and with the “forgiving hand of G!D,” both Moses and Joshua are able to stay focused on their holy assignments and continue to move themselves and the community forward.
The process of t’shuvah is like that for me also: I constantly find myself getting stuck in patterns of fear, anger, and apprehension, all of which keep me separate and disconnected from my Source of strength and from my sense of deeper Purpose. I find that when I can stay focused, resolute, I can gain the necessary perspective to keep moving forward.
As we confront the looming scales of our merits and indulgences, may we all be blessed to engage in the reckoning process of spiritual transition with humility, grace, and openness.
Shabbat Shalom v’G’mar chativah tova,
Chaplain Adam Siegel