Our parashah this week, Va’etchanan, gives us a beautiful description of the process of t’shuvah. As Moses exhorts the Israelites to follow God’s instruction, he acknowledges that they might not choose to do so, that they might stray from the right path. And if (and when) they do, they will end up in darkness, having moved away from God’s light.
Perhaps many – perhaps all – of us reading this understand from our own experience what this feels like. In our parashah, Moses explains to the Israelites that if they find themselves in this dark place, there is something they can do.
“If you search there for the Lord your God, you will find God, if only you seek God with all your heart and soul – when you are in distress because all these things have befallen you, and in the end, return to the Lord your God and obey God. For the Lord your God is a compassionate God: God will not fail you nor will God let you perish” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).
Perhaps this process describes an important turn-around in your own life, in your own recovery. You found yourself in distress because of what had befallen you – perhaps it was the consequence of your own choices; perhaps your distress came from events beyond your control. Either way, in the end, you sought God with all your heart and soul. This is the process of hitting rock bottom: it is the moment in life and recovery when we turn things around, the moment when we stop digging.
As many of us know, it is one thing to turn our life around, and another thing entirely to stay on the right path. Often we must take contrary action – we must do the exact opposite of what we want to do, or what we are accustomed to doing – in a particular situation. When we invite sober friends, sponsors, and others we trust into our life, we must remain humble and teachable, open to taking advice and direction when we need it. Our parashah uses the language “obey God”: the way I understand this is that we must be open to taking direction and committed to taking the next right action, to be committed to growing beyond rebellion and self-will.
For me, the most important part of our parashah’s description is God’s compassion. It doesn’t matter what choices we’ve made, it doesn’t matter how well (or how poorly) we’ve responded to the events in our past. If we are willing to return to the right path now, if we are willing to re-commit to a life of t’shuvah, that path and that life is available to us. God is compassionate. God understands that mistakes happen, but that these mistakes can never mar our holy soul, can never change our truest essence – that instead, mistakes can be unique opportunities to learn. Even though we must at times reckon with the wreckage of our past, God will never let our prior mistakes block us from doing the next right thing.
As we move towards this Shabbat, and as we begin to glimpse the High Holy Days approaching on the horizon, may we be blessed to feel God’s compassion. May we be inspired to renew our commitment to doing the next right thing, one moment at a time. And may we show compassion to those in our lives that are in need – may compassion inspire us to be there for one another in acts of service, and in loving relationship.