2015-09-16 / Religion Column

‘Stopping, listening, reflecting, and returning home’


RABBI GERALD R. FOX RABBI GERALD R. FOX Parashat Vayelekh
Deut. 31:1-30

Have you ever felt like you didn’t know where you were or where you were headed? You are not alone.

You may not realize it, but you are at a critical moment of your life: You are about to decide your impact on your loved ones and the whole world around you…certainly, for the next year and, to press the point, most likely, for the rest of your life. Why do I say this? Because human beings are creatures of momentum. If we make adjustments in the trajectories of our lives, we do so incrementally and in ways that are difficult to undo. Each day matters, of course, but even more so, moments of gravitas matter, and we are in the midst of one of those moments.

As we transition from the joy and confidence of Rosh Hashanah to the pensive trepidation of Yom Kippur, we run right into what our tradition calls “Shabbat Shuva,” what I like to call the “Shabbat of Returning.” If Shabbat is about ceasing and reflecting, being in the moment with who you are and where you are, Shabbat Shuva is probably the greatest tool that we have to examine our lives and to ensure the success that a meaningful Yom Kippur observance can guarantee. The day after Yom Kippur can be spent just as the day before it was spent or, alternatively, its character can reflect something profoundly different, something so reimagined as to be unrecognizable.

Our ancestors, the Israelites, spent decades in the wilderness— literally and figuratively. They literally gave birth to two generations that were schooled in reverence and self-transformation. And yet, they did not sit still. Our ancestors struggled day in and day out to reflect the highest ideals that were within each of them. Many who struggled did not succeed, but many did and left us a legacy of reflection and transformation. This is the legacy that we hold precious today. Many of us, in our best moments, embrace the drive to bring holiness into our world, to perfect what can be perfected, and to be a vessel filled with the best a human being can offer. Simply put, our ancestors’ task and ours is the same: To return to the best of ourselves.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses reflects on and reminds the people that he will not be with them when they enter the land to which God has brought them. This is probably one of the greatest and under-estimated moments of Torah as it is one of the most human moments. Moses must grapple with the most human of truths: We cannot complete every achievement we are driven toward in our lifetime. Each of us must face this painful reality.

The question is not how do we cheat the physics of our biology but rather how we are able to transform ourselves and then, in turn, those around us so that our shared humanity lives on. Essentially, our task for this Shabbat and this transitional moment of gravitas is to figure out how we can return to the best within us.

My blessing for you is to remember that you are deserving, that you have within yourself all that you need, and that your purpose is impactful and unfolding before you. I am convinced that, if you are able to see the world for what it is, you will be so transformed as to reflect the most elevated of what it means to be human. In so doing, you will change not only yourself forever but that you will bring others home, as well. May you be granted this gift, now, and forevermore. Welcome home. .

Rabbi Gerald R. Fox is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Brigantine. He also serves as the president of the South Jersey Board of Rabbis and Cantors in Atlantic & Cape May counties.

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