Moses now comes to his final farewell as Vayeilech begins in Deuteronomy 31. He recounts that he is failing and soon will die. We see the transfer of authority Joshua (31:7) with the famous words “hazak v’ehmehtz”, be strong and courageous. The portion continues on with Moses issuing another warning about straying from God’s path as well as more instructions regarding rituals to be performed every seventh year. There is much here to review, especially for our age group who must come to grips, as Moses, with our own mortality as well as the challenge, faced by many Boomers, of letting go of a career and seeing the next generation take over.
However, I wanted to look at another aspect of the portion and its linkage to the special Shabbat that comes to us this week. The Shabbat between Rosh Hoshonna and Yom KIppur is called Shabbat Shuvah. It is the so-called “Sabbath of repentance”. It is the bridge between the two holidays and carries with it the theme of turning, turning to the sacred, to God, to that which is holy. The Haftorah echoes this theme as the reading calls on us to “seek God” and to “return to the Eternal” (Isaiah 55:6).
There is, I believe, a sincere and meaningful message, however, in the “be strong and courageous” message of Moses to Joshua that can impact many of us in this season. It is a message, I believe, that echoes the call to return or turn to what is right and holy in life. This is the moment within our cycle that we look seriously at forgiveness. The Yom Kippur liturgy reminds us that Yom Kippur atones for wrongs between man and God, but wrongs between human beings, Yom Kippur does NOT atone. We must seek forgiveness from people we have wronged. And this takes strength and courage. This is not easy to “let go” of past wrongs and hurts. We all know people who hold on to these feelings for years, maybe decades. The feelings eat away at one’s soul and, all too often cause a disease of the soul, and sometimes physical illness as well. To seek forgiveness, to reconcile past hurts often does take courage and a strength of ego and will. You will notice that the tradition does not say forget these wrongs, it asks that we seek peace. This dynamic is often played out in family situations where these hurts can linger and impact generations.
The message of this week’s portion that I wish to send to us is to look at Moses’s call to Joshua and to seek the means to seek forgiveness and reconciliation for past hurts from those we have met. The courage and strength to do that can be powerful and very meaningful. This is the season for transition and personal change. A way of moving in that direction, of turning to the sacred, is to have the courage and strength of soul and character to seek relationships that model the holy. It may not be easy. But is right. Those gates of judgement are still open.
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.