What a Torah portion for us to consider this Shabbat! The Israelites, poised to enter the “land flowing with milk and honey” are given a stern and direct warning by Moses. Follow the word of God for blessing, do not follow, and be cursed! No middle ground here, no creating a committee to study the situation. Moses tells it like it was and is!
But before we are asked to pay heed to the blessings and curses, we meet at the beginning of the portion (26:1-3) the call that when the Israelites enter Canaan they are to bring “some of every first fruit” to the priest who will set it before God and then there is the oath to be uttered that recalls the Exodus from Egypt (26:5-8) that we read again at Pesach. So, our first order of business, as we enter Canaan, is to bring these reisheet, these first fruits. An interesting idea as few of us will enter the sanctuary for the Holidays with the first fruits of harvest to lay upon the bimah!
Let’s play with this for a moment as this portion comes in Elul and so very close to Rosh Hoshonnah. Let’s imagine that as we enter this new year, we are entering a new land, a land which we cannot know our future. What do we bring as our reisheet? We bring the possibility of a new soul, that’s what. This month of Elul is the preparation for our new soul. We enter the sanctuary with the possibility, if we choose, to reframe our own spiritual ecosystem. We bring a new self, or at least the potential for a new self. Consider that gift that Tradition gives us. Indeed, we will enter the new year and, again if we choose to, open our self and soul to new possibilities, possibilities of growth and change. And yes, this does come with risk. As we get older, there is more of a tendency to embrace the status quo.
It will take some courage to open our self and soul to reimagination. The resheet of this portion is part of the concept of creation, as in Genesis 1 and the idea of new beginnings: b’resheet! We are preparing now to begin again. For many, the end of this Shabbat will see the observance of S’lichot; those prayers that speak to our turning of soul and the search for forgiveness to begin this new year clean, fresh, and new. Our challenge, as always, is to not fear the new, to embrace the reisheet , the creation of a new spirit and soul for the new year.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.