This week, as we take our first steps into the new year, our journey is mirrored by the Israelites in the Torah. Their time in the desert is coming to a close, they are about to walk towards their new future in the Promised Land and all the possibilities of the new life they are creating for themselves and the generations to follow. Moses has been told that his days on earth are numbered, he is about to hand the leadership on to the next generation as he gently steps back from the people he has guided and served for more than 40 years. In these moments of transition Moses does what he does best, he teaches. Moses, the man we met early in the Torah, the man who said “I am not a man of words,” has become the inspirational leader, the guide, nurturer and protector. He has disciplined the people, chastised them with love, he has stood between them and an angry God, and he has helped them to grow and become who they are going to be.
Just as the people stand in those moments between worlds, we stand in this space between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, looking back at the year that has passed and dreaming of the future into which we are stepping. This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shuva, the shabbat of turning and returning. We take the time to turn from the behaviours that make us less than our best selves, and we turn towards the goodness we hope to bring into the new year. This is challenging work, it is difficult to look to the cracks and stains in ourselves and our world and shine a light on the places we have failed.
It is counterintuitive that we have Rosh Hashana, the great, joyful celebration first and follow it with Yom Kippur. We would imagine that doing the hard self reflection of this time should come first and then we celebrate the new beginning. But our tradition is wise. It understood that we need the joyful positivity of Rosh hashana, recognising and feeling grateful for our blessings, before we have the strength to do the work of Yom Kippur. We are fortified by the blessings in our lives, so that from a place of gratitude and knowing that we and all creation are loved, from the security that comes from understanding that every part of us is imbued with holiness, we can do the challenging and difficult work of making change and confronting the less noble actions within the last year.
I hope that for all of us, this is a meaningful time of reflection and contemplation, that we feel refreshed and revived, strengthened by the presence of community, and grateful for the blessings in our lives.
Gamar Chatima Tova
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio