Just a few short weeks ago, I was feeling rather proud of myself (and of us) for having uncharacteristically started spiritual preparations for Rosh Hashanah plenty of time in advance; a whole month of Elul stretched out ahead, with its promise of reflection and rectification, good deeds and noble resolutions. Suddenly, it's a week and counting until the ram's horn blows, and the old familiar panic--and the desperate scrambling to find some Cliff Notes on Repentance, or Crash Course in Righteousness--are back. Time sure flies when you're distracted.
The words of Parshas Nitzavim--which, quite fittingly, immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah each year--are surely meant to snap us to attention and focus the mind on the big themes of the Days of Awe:
Returning to Hashem: this is the essence of teshuvah (repentance), whose Hebrew root is the verb, "return." For although we must always "repent" for any individual sin we do--making sure to incorporate the requisite steps of feeling regret (charatah), verbally confessing our guilt to G-d (vidui), sincerely resolving (without swearing) not to commit the transgression again and, with respect to interpersonal transgressions, asking forgiveness from those we wronged--, the Torah is highlighting here the more basic and fundamental reorientation of perspective that underlies the concept of teshuvah. As the S'fas Emes puts it, "the root of teshuvah is not [repenting] of the sin itself; rather, a person must return to cling to his source."
Returning to the Source of my being, or more precisely, to a life of constant and conscious awareness of that Source. Returning to a self-concept that transcends (and pre-dates) what I may have become through my associations, compromises and poor choices: an acknowledgment that I was created in the image of G-d, with free will and the amazing ongoing capacity, through my connection with G-d, to renew myself spiritually. To employ what has become a cliché: teshuvah is the deepest "getting-in-touch-with-yourself."
Interestingly, there's another key Jewish concept, and observance, whose designation stems from the same root verb, "to return." Shabbos. For that is the day when the Jewish people "return" from their secular preoccupations of the week to the full awareness of the sacred Source of everything that exists: "G-d blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it He abstained from all His work " It is on Shabbos that we are granted an extra degree of spiritual sensitivity (a "neshama yeseira, or, "extra soul"); freed of our material cares and concerns, we return to our true selves.
Conceptually, it makes good sense that Rosh Hashanah precedes Yom Kippur: how can we beseech our Father and King for atonement before we first reacquaint ourselves with the fact that He is our Father and King? To a great extent, this is the goal of Rosh Hashanah: to deepen our consciousness of G-d as Father, and especially, King. He is (and we must willingly make Him) the absolute Ruler in our lives. This is the essence of teshuvah.
One more important theme from this week's parsha that relates directly to Rosh Hashanah:
"See-I have placed before you today
the life and the good, and the death and the evil, that which I command you
today, to love Hashem, your G-d, to walk in His ways, to observe His
commandments, His decrees, and His ordinances; then you will live and you
I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse;
and you shall choose life
(30, 15-16, 19)
Now, it's clear from the Rosh Hashanah liturgy that we mean physical life in this world: " who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire "
However, many commentaries point out that there is an additional--and deeper--meaning: spiritual life, our connection to G-d--the Source of Life. (See Pele Yoetz, "Rosh Hashanah," for example.) We beg Hashem not just that we be granted another year of physical life (and health and blessings), but that we be given assistance to live a healthy spiritual life and to be receptive to the spiritual insights, awakenings and "communications" that we often are too distracted (or dull-hearted) to notice or make good use of. "Help us live deeply, dear G-d, connected to You, and to what's truly meaningful: Torah and mitzvos."
On Rosh Hashanah, we are really asking for a year where we will be connected to our true selves.
There's one week left until the Days of Repentance begin, folks. Get busy, by all means but don't worry. With the powerful words of this week's double parsha to propel us (and the special pre-Rosh Hashanah penitential prayers-Selichos-beginning Saturday night), not to mention the spirit of Sydney in the air (and airwaves), there is still good reason to hope we can take home the gold.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5TH, AT 7:00PM, RABBI EDELSTEIN WILL SPEAK AT THE BARNES AND NOBLE ON ABERCORN ST., ON THE TOPIC: "Visions of Jewish Renewal-Thoughts for the New Year."
Edelstein is Director
of the the Savannah Kollel and the
Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP).
Brought to you with the help of the Ben Portman Computer Center.
This Dvar Torah page created
and hosted courtesy of OU.ORG.