Our Torah cycle and our year is drawing to a close and this week we meet a double portion. The concluding farewell sermon of Moses draws our attention to so many issues. He reminds us of our need to follow the path of mitzvot and that this path is near to us. Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, from the Zigler School of Rabbinic Studies of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, has written on this portion and looks at the passage from Deuteronomy 30:1-14. She references the 13th century scholar Nachmanides who looked at the word “lashuv”, which is often used for repentance. It has the meaning of return as well and it is to that concept that I wish to look at.
We are in a season of “returning”. Elul, the month that precedes High Holidays, is about the beginning of turning our souls to God and the sacred. Indeed, this Saturday night, as Shabbat end, many congregations will hold special “S’lichot” services that focus on the concepts of returning, repentance and forgiveness. There are many aspects of this “returning” that speak to our age. One issue I want to raise is the idea of the power of relationships )a theme we have written about before) and the situations of estrangement. I think that this season of the year raises this issue to a very high level. There are people we know, some who may be reading this now, who, for any number of reasons, are estranged from a relative or a friend. Some encounter, or argument or situation in the past has been allowed to linger or fester and created this abyss so that a relationship, once close, has been broken. I have no doubt that many of these issues are painful and with great merit.
However, once of the messages of this season is that of the fragility of life and the passage of time. We have all known situations that these rifts in relationships were compounded when, usually after a death or serious incident, one of the aggrieved parties wishes that they had made amends for now it is too late. Yes, often the hurts are so deep that a relationship cannot be restored. Yet, it also may be possible to meet, agree to disagree, and to mutually move on in life with knowledge that, a line of communication has been re-opened. As we get older, the need for community, relationships, family and the like become so much more important. No one can undo what has been done. However, this is a time to “return” to civility. And, as the text says, this “returning” is not too far from us, it is close by of we so choose to do this. The themes of repentance, returning, forgiveness and the like are not theoretical or abstract. They are real and powerful. That is why we are reminded that it is in this season, before the end of Yom Kippur, that we are to seek out people we have wronged in this past year to ask forgiveness. This an act of liberation as well as a “mitzvah”. Time is moving on. We do not wish to be in a situation one day of saying to our soul and self, “if only I had reached out to make peace”.
Rabbi Richard F Address