It can easily be understood why this coming Shabbat, Shabbat Shuva, the one immediately following Rosh Hashanah and before Yom Kippur, can be seen as a letdown. We have just finished Rosh Hashanah, we are in the midst of the Ten Days of Repentance and are looking toward the marathon of Yom Kippur. Who among us does not want a break from Shul? From all that praying? And introspection?
This week’s parasha, Ha-azinu, is dealing with much the same theme. Moses has just concluded his final address to the Israelites the week before and this week’s Parasha contains a poem, known as the Song of Moses, his final words to the community.
“Set your hearts to all the words which I bear witness for you today, so that you will command your children to observe to do all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing you will lengthen your days upon the land to which you are crossing over the Jordan to possess it.”
Moses is striving to tell the people, to paraphrase: “I’m glad you were able to hear me speak for these past few weeks, but those were not empty words. Now that you have listened to them, show me, show yourselves, that you actually heard what I was saying.” In essence, don’t let these words become empty words.
Once again, the rabbi’s show their human touch by putting this parasha in the midst of the High Holidays. All the work we put into preparing ourselves during the month of Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was not really for those few days of the year, but for the rest of the year! The introspection and spiritual development we had hoped to attain was not meant solely for the High Holidays, but it is crucial that we maintain it for the year. We are hopefully striving to not only wipe our slate clean, but to keep it clean. In essence, all that work we just put in should not be for nothing. To echo the parasha, great that we were able to come together these past few weeks to pray together as a community, to maybe make resolutions, to reach new spiritual heights, but those were not empty achievements. Now that we have accomplished that, show yourselves that what we accomplished was not a hollow feat, but something to build on. Do not succumb to the temptation to rest on your laurels because you accomplished the task. Rosh Hashanah (and soon Yom Kippur) was not the end of the task, but the beginning.
The cycle restarts after the High Holidays, I think to give us the proper focus and perspective on how to begin again. I pray that this coming Shabbat and for the rest of the year, we remember the words we said these past few weeks, the feelings we had in Shul and we continue to push ourselves and come together as a community and use those words and experiences not to feel exhausted, but as inspiration.