This week’s Torah portion comes on a special Shabbat—Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is as it should be because the Torah portion itself is a special poem known as the Song of Moses and is an accounting of the sins of Israel and their ultimate redemption! What glorious hope for us! Even the ancient Israelites whose great sin of the Golden Calf and their sins of idolatry kept them from the Promised Land for awhile eventually made it across the Jordan River to experience the wonder and joy of living in the Holy Land.
For all of us at this season of introspection and accounting we too have the promise of redemption and living out our days in a holy space. But to cross over that metaphoric Jordan River we have work to do. That is the work of repentance, of examination of our deeds and actions and words and the even harder work of learning from our mistakes and errors. This is no small task. And our Torah portion reinforces this message. Moses calls out to the heaven and earth as witness. Moses wants us to know that this is an eternal message, an eternal covenant with eternal witnesses. Even though we humans are mortal, we are born and we die, the covenant that Israel made with the Holy One of Blessing at Sinai stands beyond time. So as we enter a New Year that covenant is still enforce upon you and I as descendants of those twelve tribes. We shall hear its words and we shall need to grapple with its implications. Especially at this time of year.
The question in this New Year is what do we do with our covenant? Shall we use it as a tool for living life fully or shall we run and try to hide-only to have God come look for us as God did to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They too tried to hide after eating from the tree—only to have God cry out: “Ayekah?” “Where are you?”
That is the message: Where are you? Where are you in this covenantal promise of Sinai? Where are you as this New Year begins? Where are you in this process of teshuvah? And where are you in relationship to the community? And where are you with the Holy One of Blessing? Ayekah?
Inside all of us are aspects of goodness and aspects of evil. The rabbis called it the Yetzer hatov and Yetzer harah. We contain within ourselves the good inclination and the evil inclination. It is up to us to figure out how to use these parts of ourselves in service of the holy. Our ancient Sages taught us that even the evil inclination can be used for service and holiness. It is all in how we channel our strength, our power, our outlook and our actions.
So on this Shabbat Shuvah, as heaven and earth are our witnesses, and Moses calls out to us to change our ways, we pray that our repentance is true and honest and that we can stand up and answer God’s call of Ayekah? Where are you? With a firm resolve that says, “Hinneni” I am here. I am ready to live. I am ready to forgive and to grow and love and learn and to be. Hinneni. I am here ready for the New Year and ready to bring the covenantal promise of freedom to life.