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September 29, 2022 10:51 am
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Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur There’s a Chance to Return to God

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

Opinion

Moses Breaking the Tables of the Law (1659), by Rembrandt. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is always called the Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Return.

In the Torah reading, Moses — in his farewell speech to the Children of Israel before he dies — says that he knows that they will abandon God and reject the Torah. He keeps on repeating this cynical, pessimistic view. He knows what he is talking about — because he has seen that regardless of the exodus, the miracles, and their survival in the desert, the people do indeed keep going off track. And that has continued till this very day. In every generation, many Jews have abandoned the Jewish way of life.

When this happens, Moses says, God turns away from us and leaves us to our own devices. The term the mystics use is “Hester Panim” — “God hides” or “turns away.” This beautiful metaphor of unrequited love and alienation increases the gap between God and us.

But Moses insists several times that the Torah is a love poem or a song, which should be written down by all of us and displayed for everyone to see, in the hope that even if it is ignored, it will not be forgotten. And this continuity and love has allowed our people to come back and survive.

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In his speech, Moses repeats seven times the idea of return, TeShuva — however much we Jews stray, there is always a chance to return. This idea of returning gives its name to the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Of course, we can repent at any time. But it is the communal experience of return during these 10 days that reinforces our identities and our roots.

The song we sing is a love song to our heritage. True love is difficult to find. Love hurts, and is often hard work. It has to be reciprocal and when it is, there is nothing quite like it. And the same goes for our relationship with our people and our faith.

May your Shabbat Shuvah and Yom Kippur be meaningful and inspirational whoever or wherever you are.

The author is a writer and rabbi, currently based in New York.

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