Message From Rabbi Gold
PARSHAT HAAZINU – SHABBAT SHUVA
“You neglected the Rock that begot you, Forgot the God who brought you forth.” (Deuteronomy 32:18)
There is a Hasidic tale of a great king, whose son disobeyed his father. The father in anger sent his son to live in a way off part of the kingdom, far from the king’s palace. After a while living far away, the boy decided to return to his father. He began the long journey. When the father heard that his son was journeying back, he decided to go meet his son halfway.
The parable is obvious. We become estranged from God, and feel far away. But then we decide to return to God. And when we begin to take the journey the back, God journeys to meet us halfway. This entire portion is a long, poetic version of that story. God gives birth to us but we reject God, so God rejects us. But then we begin the journey back and God remembers who we are.
The entire High Holiday season is the story of return, us returning to God and God returning to us. The Hebrew word for such return is teshuvah. Let me share a bit of the sermon I will deliver on Kol Nidre night about the meaning of this Hebrew word teshuvah. The word teshuvah is usually translated as repentance. Repentance in English is a feeling of regret and remorse, with a determinism to change one’s ways. It is a change of heart.
The word repentance is about feelings, about something your do with your heart. That makes sense in English, for English is based on Christian values. Christianity puts a great emphasis on what you do with your heart, with your feelings, with your inner spirit. This idea goes back to Martin Luther who said that man is justified not by his works but by his faith, by what goes on in his heart.
Perhaps the best example is the 1976 presidential election when Jimmy Carter won the presidency. Remember how Carter admitted in a magazine interview that he had committed adultery with his heart many times. There was a hue-and-cry. Christian America cares about what we do with our hearts. But most American Jews yawned. It did not matter. Judaism is not about feelings but about actions. It is about what we do with our bodies, not our thoughts. If he had actually committed adultery with his body, we would have cared. But not his heart.
The word teshuvah in Hebrew is not about a change of heart. It is about a change of action. It comes from the Hebrew root shuv which means return. Teshuvah is returning to the path we should be walking. We have strayed from the path and now we have come back to that path. Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher, teaches that true teshuvah is when you have been walking the wrong path, and you have the same opportunity to walk that path again, but this time you change direction. It is a change in action.
Teshuvah assumes there is a right path, a path we should be walking down in every area of our lives. I sometimes hear from new age thinkers that whatever you are doing with your life, that is what you should be doing. That is the right path for you. Judaism disagrees. It says that what we do matters, there is a proper path. To illustrate this idea, I often like to share one of my favorite passages from Alice in Wonderland. Alice meets the Cheshire Cat, the cat who disappears, everything but his smile. Alice asks, pussy what path should I go on? The cat answers, where are you trying to go? I don’t know where I am trying to go. Then it really does not matter what path you are going on.
Judaism believes there is a proper path. We have a way we should go as children, as siblings, as spouses, as parents, as citizens, as human beings, and as Jews. We all stray off the path. In fact, if you tell me you always stayed on the right path for the past year, never strayed, you have my permission not to fast on Yom Kippur. We stray off the path. Judaism is not about repentance, changing our hearts. Judaism is about teshuvah, changing our path. It is about returning to the proper path.
Adult Education 2017-2018
RAP WITH THE RABBI – THE STORY OF JUDAISM
Judaism has a history. Come explore it one Sunday a month, 9 am bagels and coffee 9:30 – 10:30 am class.
Oct. 15 – Mystical Beginnings – The Five Books of Moses
Nov. 19 – Cult and Prophecy – The First Temple Period
Dec. 17 – Exile and Redemption – The Second Temple Period
Jan. 21 – Midrash and Mishna – The Judaism of the Rabbis
Feb. 25 – Athens and Jerusalem – The Judaism of the Philosophers
Mar. 11 – Ein Sof and the Sefirot – The Judaism of the Mystic
Apr. 15 – The Age of Enlightenment – A Challenge to Judaism
May 6 – The Holocaust and Zionism – Judaism in Our Own Age
BIBLE AND EVERYTHING ELSE – A weekly open-ended discussion at the office of attorney Ken Rubin, 9900 W. Sample Rd. Suite 404, Coral Springs, every Wed. 12:15 – 1:15 pm. Class begins Wednesday October 4.
Visit my website at www.rabbigold.com.
May you and your family have a restful, joyous Shabbat.