September 10, 2020


9.11.2020 Weekly Torah Portion

Rosh Hashanah is just 7 days away!

Do you feel as completely unprepared as I do? As we enter 5781, it feels like I’m constantly pulled between a heightened sense of urgency and a heavy weight of powerlessness. Pandemic. Presidential election. Racial injustice, protests, riots and counter-protests. Raging wildfires and climate change. Zoom fatigue and our lack of personal connection.

Dayenu. Enough already!

Uncertainty and doubt run wild. How can I plan ahead? It’s like playing chess where all the pieces are in a new spot before my next move. And while I want answers, and I want them NOW, I’m left only with more and more questions.

I’m reminded of Maria Rainer Rilke, who in Letters to a Young Poet advises:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

So here are some questions to reflect on based on this week’s Torah portion that will, I hope, guide me into the new year:

“I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day” (Deuteronomy 29:13-14).

  • Who am I in covenant with?
  • How am I honoring the legacy of those who came before me? And laying a better foundation for those who will take my place?
  • What are the terms that must be stipulated for our relationship to grow? Is it time to set up more boundaries?
  • Is it time to step into conflict and advocate for myself?
  • Is it time to let go and forgive?
  • What can I do today, to improve my relationships?

Then the LORD your God will open up (literally “circumcise”) your heart and the hearts of your offspring to love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, for the sake of your life (Deuteronomy 30:6).

  • How is my heart hardened?
  • What cause or person have I neglected to empathize with because of the calluses on my heart and soul that separate me from others?
  • Am I willing to be open to an alternative view?
  • Am I willing to listen and learn without judging or forcing my own opinion?
  • If having an open heart and soul is for my benefit, what is keeping me closed?

“Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it(Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

  • What instructions have I been resistant to learn?
  • What excuses or justifications do I make to stay stagnant or in old habits?
  • How have I said, “Fuck it” because it appears to be “too hard” or “too far away”?
  • How have I made something bigger and more burdensome when all it required was action and effort?

“But if your heart turns away and you give no heed, and are lured into the worship and service of other gods, I declare to you this day that you shall certainly perish; you shall not long endure on the soil that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess” (Deuteronomy 30:17-18).

  • How have I been duped by my own desires?
  • How have I played god?
  • How have I worshiped false gods?
  • How have I willingly avoided or hid from doing the next right thing?
  • How can I, as Rabbi Heschel says, “say No to myself in the name of a Higher Yes”? (Insecurities of Freedom p. 7)

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—so you and your offspring will live— (Deuteronomy 30:19)

  • How will the heavens and earth testify and be witnesses to the life I choose to live?
  • How have I chosen fantasy over the painful reality of the current moment?
  • How have I chosen paths of destruction and curse?
  • How will I commit to life and blessings?

We are a community that strives to practice Teshuvah on a daily basis and the Torah portion this week stresses its importance as we approach the new year. In fact, the Hebrew root of Teshuvah, שׁב, which means to return, appears 7 times in this brief portion, emphasizing our need to reflect, repent, return and repair as the new year approaches.

There is much that is unresolved in my heart and in the world. And while I still yearn for the sunny day after the rain, I have learned to trust the process. To wash, rinse and repeat in the process of teshuvah and choose to be fully immersed in living a sacred life.

In the words of one of my teachers, Rabbi Drucker, “May we suck the marrow out of the questions, so when we get to the answer, it is a small step instead of a giant leap of faith.”

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!

Rabbi Joseph