Vayeilech (Deuteronomy 31) Going In and Out Of The Gates of Repentance

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            This week Moses comes to realization that he will soon die. The portion begins (31:2) with the recognition that at 120 years of age “I can no longer be active”. The Hebrew words, la’tzeit v’lavoh literally describe the fact that Moses can no longer venture out and come in or return. Like so many as we age, our mobility is challenged but our minds remain sharp, as we see in the remaining portions as Moses retains his ability to engage the elders, Israelites and even God. Moses proceeds to make official Joshua’s new role as the leader of the people. A “peaceful” transition, yet, as we read the passages, we cannot help but sense the pathos, sadness, and a sense of the unfulfilled that may rest in the soul of Moses.

            But this Shabbat, we come to the Shabbat between Rosh Hoshonnah and Yom Kippur, the Shabbat of Repentance, or Shabbat T’shuvah.

I mention this because of that opening phrase of going out and coming in. In sitting with this verse, it reminded me of the challenge that we meet this Shabbat and all day on Yom Kippur: the turning of the soul to God, the act of repentance. Many of us will spend significant time this next week praying and thinking on this theme. The viddui section of the prayer book, with the famous Ashamnu and Al Chet will remind us of the “sins we have committed” and the fact that the gates of repentance are always open. In a way, we spend each year going out and trying to come back in through these gates. This section of the prayer book is serious stuff. It is ponderous and the music that may accompany this section is likewise designed to reinforce the dimensions of confronting the errors we have made.

            Yet, here is a small suggestion (and we would love to know if any congregation does this); can we insert a section in the prayers that celebrate the acts of kindness and generosity, selflessness and giving that each of us have done this past year? Does anyone have a section in which we confess the good that we have done or that we have helped with? Perhaps a meditation or public promise on the deeds and mitzvot we hope to achieve in the coming year? I know that this may seem counter-intuitive to what we are used to, and we are not suggesting eliminating the traditional prayers. Rather, maybe it is time to incorporate into the liturgy a section in which we “confess” the good we have done, the mitzvot we have observed and still hope to do.

            We do not wish to offend anyone with this idea. But life is so complex, and we are human, prone to mistakes as well as acts of kindness, for we continue to go out and back in through the gates of everyday life. Confession, we are told, is good for the soul, confession of the totality of life, the good and the less than good.

Shabbat shalom. Shannah Tovah

Rabbi Richard F Address

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