By Melanie Kelly
Today is Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Its name comes from the opening verse of the Haftarah from Hosea that we read today, ‘return (shuva), O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have fallen because of your sin.’
We are in the middle of the 10 Days of Repentance, Asseret Yemei Teshuva, a journey from the birth of the world to standing before our Creator, asking for forgiveness for sins and assistance in making ourselves better people. I’m struck by this relationship between the parameters of this period and this middle Shabbat caught in the cusp between the old year and the new, between our past behaviours and our future choices. Even the sound of the name shuva (return) sounds halfway towards the main theme of Yom Kippur – teshuvah (repentance).
Looking down at my keyboard I notice a strange large key to my right. It’s bigger than most of the others and has two descriptors written on it. One says ‘Enter’, the other ‘Return’. Both words describing the same key! This made me think: what is the relationship between entering and returning? What is the connection we have as people when we stand at the cusp or boundary between one state and another? Between moving back and going forward? When Hosea asks us to ‘shuva’, is he inviting us to reminisce about a distant time in our past, or is he asking us to use our past to fashion our future?
Over the last few weeks, since mid-July, we have been reading each Shabbat from the book of Deuteronomy. This book is a series of speeches given by Moses as he stands on the boundary of the Promised Land, preparing the Israelites for the next crucial stage of their journey to a land where he cannot accompany them. He reminds them of their history, of the laws which will help them live this new settled life and the boundaries both geographical (Numbers 34) and spiritual (Deuteronomy 5) which will help fulfil what God demands.
In Parashat Nitzavim (which we read last week), we are admonished, while standing at this boundary and entranceway, to choose between life and death, between following or abandoning, between choosing to stay part of the People of Israel or separating ourselves and being subsumed into the local environment.
Today as modern Masorti Jews we spend each day making choices between our traditions and the modern world in which we live, between entering and returning. This area of boundary can be challenging and uncomfortable. It can leave one feeling neither in one place or another. Often it’s easier not to think about our choices and just to get on with our lives – this is what I do, but don’t ask me to explain! I would, however, encourage us this week to try to think and explain. To work out how we feel living on the cusp. Can we embrace it, and can we use it to inform our lives to help us make better choices for our future?
Melanie Kelly is a Jewish educator working for the UJIA in their Living Bridge Department. She and her family are members of Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue.