Vayelech in its own way is a strange portion. It is one chapter that is filled with interesting issues. Moses is, for the time being, accepting of his death. He charges Joshua to be strong and courageous. He speaks with the elders and predicts that after his death and their going to Canaan, they will continue to stray from the path that they accepted at Sinai.
There are, however, a fascinating few verses at the beginning of the portion. In 31:10-13, Moses outlines for the people the call to read this Law (Torah) as an act of renewing the Covenant. This is to be done every seventh year, at the year of remission or, what we know as the sh’mitahyear. This is the year when the land is to rest and various economic and social laws are followed. It is a year of renewal. By coincidence, 5782 is such a year!
So, this portion this year comes in the Shabbat between Rosh Hoshonnah and Yom Kippur, the so-called Shabbat T’shuvah or Sabbath of Repentance. The special Haftorot (from the Books of Hosea, Micah and Joel) speak to High Holiday themes of returning to God, repentance and faith. No doubt, in your Torah study session you will discuss this special seventh year.
Yet, for we elders, the question raised in this section can be very profound and meaningful. How can we, do we, renew our relationship with God? This is, after all, a major question and theme of these Holidays. What does this mean to each of us? Should congregations create a special renewal ritual for us that we can embrace in a public way, a ritual that would signify our renewal of our faith, affiliation and affection for our Jewish life? Could this be a ritual that includes study and action, modeling a system that sees us, every seven years, as a new spiritual person?
As we, as we age, re-examine our own spiritual quotient, perhaps it is time for us to institutionalize this ritual of renewal. And, shall it be only for elders?
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.