Shabbat Shuvah, Blog Vayelech Tishrei 6 5780 שבת שובה, בלוג וַיֵּלֶךְ, ו’ תשרי תשע”פ

This is Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of the Return. It is a tradition established by our rabbis, and although it is not in the Torah, it helps to keep us together as a community. They always tried to guide us on the right path, but in their zeal, they added their own ideas to the Words of the Bore Olam. The Torah was given to Moshe on Mt. Sinai to all Israel, not just to an elite group. Instead of teaching us that we were given the gift of bechirah chofshit – free will, which affords each of us the freedom to choose between right and wrong, they have imposed so many rules and regulations upon us that we lose our free will. Each group tells us that we need to do exactly as they say, or we will be excommunicated. That is why is secularism is winning out today. We have become so religious that we alienate people from the Creator’s simple message, and we are the stumbling block for people to have a relationship with Him.

Our great Rabbi Yeshua was asked to summarize the Torah. He simply said, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and resources and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” In simple terms, put the Ten Commandments into practice. Shabbat Shuvah means to be prepared to return to our Creator; to be forgiven from our transgressions. We may try to examine our hearts to see what we have done wrong but the first question we need to ask ourselves, in light of what Rabbi Yeshua said, Am I holding a grudge against someone? If you want to be forgiven, ask yourself who are you not forgiving. Are you being judgmental? Do you look down upon others? Are you able to forgive others before you approach The Throne of Grace of our Creator to ask forgiveness for yourself?

During these High Holidays, let us challenge ourselves with this: if we do not forgive our neighbor, how can we expect our Heavenly Father to forgive us? We need to learn to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with others. We are the hinge between the Creator and our neighbor. This is pictured in the Ten Commandments. The first three (Mitzvot) point to our relationship with the Creator; the last five (Mishpatim) indicate our relationship with our neighbor and the middle two, (Chukkim) apply to ourselves. Chukkim are regulations that have no logical reason. I see why these apply to us…we don’t even understand ourselves.

In this portion, the Creator said that He would hide His face from us. What a frightening thought! For those of us who are parents, there are times we need to exercise tough love. It is so difficult especially when the child doesn’t want to change. The Creator works with us through tough love when necessary. He knew that we would “whore” after other gods, but He is always waiting for us with open arms to return to Him. He doesn’t hit us over the head and force us to change; rather He waits for us to come to our senses like in the story of the Prodigal Son.

In Deut. 31: 8, Moses tells us: “The LORD Himself will lead you; He will be with you; He will not fail you or abandon you. Have no fear, do not be alarmed.” If He will always be faithful, then who is the one who turns our back, the Bore Olam or us? He constantly gives us the opportunity to return to Him. We are the ones to choose; He never forces us. It is so important to remember that He gives us the gift of emunah – faith which means little unless we put faith into action, through bitachon, by trusting Him. This is done only by using our free will which makes us responsible for our actions. Finally, the Creator judges us by our intentions, our kavanah. We may do good for someone, but He knows the true reason for our deed. We are in a constant battle with the Creator because our will is so strong making it is hard to follow Him. What is the first attitude of the two-year-old… “no, I do it myself”! We are born with the yetzer hatov -יצר הטוב , the good inclination, and the yetzer harah – יֵצֶר הַרַע‎, the evil inclination and that is what makes us human. Not even angels or animals have free will as we do. Free will is what allows us to have a relationship with the Creator.

We are bombarded today with religions galore each geared according to our taste. If we don’t like theirs, we can start our own. We are living in the marketplace of religions and philosophies, but they are all man-made. The Creator speaks only about a relationship with Him. I love my traditions but only those which bring us closer to the Creator otherwise I discard them. He is not impressed by our uniforms. He sees our hearts, who we really are. Are we playing a game, trying to impress each other with our behavior or are we truly seeking a relationship with the Creator?

How can we seek forgiveness if we can’t forgive our neighbor or build a relationship with the Bore Olam if we can’t have a relationship with them? Religious pride only divides. Do we think that we are the only ones who have the truth? Leviticus 23: 26-27 is speaking about Yom Kippur. A better translation than Day of Atonement would be the Day of the “Covering” since He is protecting us. It is a day “to be poor of spirit or impoverish our soul” – וְעִנִּיתֶם, אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם. This sentence means to be spiritually humble. The rabbis changed this day to be a day of “fasting” – צוֹם – tzom, only after the destruction of the Temple in order to keep our people together in community. Our existence is so important within the community but if we place more emphasis upon the fast than upon the condition of our soul, we are simply putting on a show. When Rabbi Yeshua said, “Blessed are the poor of spirit”, he was telling us to humble ourselves, to be transparent before the Creator who is the only One who can cover us and give us redemption. This is something that we need to do every day. That is why this verse in Psalm 139:23 is so important for us to take seriously… “Search me Oh God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts and see if there is any wicked way within me and lead me in the everlasting way.”