A word of Torah: by Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann

This coming Shabbat we read one of the shortest Torah readings of the year and one of the most powerful. Not only does it engage us in the renewal of the covenant with G-d as we hear the last words of Moshe Rabeinu and his demand for commitment but also it presents us with a profound paradox: On the one hand we are told in these opening words that all those involved are not only entering a covenant themselves but so, too, through them are all the coming generations.

But not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath, יגוְלֹ֥א אִתְּכֶ֖ם לְבַדְּכֶ֑ם אָֽנֹכִ֗י כֹּרֵת֙ אֶת־הַבְּרִ֣ית הַזֹּ֔את וְאֶת־הָֽאָלָ֖ה הַזֹּֽאת:
14but with those standing here with us today before the Lord, our God, and [also] with those who are not here with us, this day.

On the other hand, towards the end of this short reading we are presented with a choice – “choose life”, as if each of us is completely free to make choices despite the earlier threats of dire punishment if we stray from the path of Torah. We are told that it is “not in heaven” but near to us to do this thing. This paradox can only be resolved by the notion of Teshuva – return or “turning” – that despite being committed by the choices made by our ancestors and living the consequences of those choices we must choose again and again. We always have the option of change, of return to G-d and the right path.

This is an inspiring idea, one which has given people hope in the worst of circumstances, the hope that despite everything a person – and a people – might have done there can be another way, a way of life, of renewal. It is one of the secrets of Jewish survival and renewal through history.

I believe that what is true in our relationship to Torah and to our religious commitments is also true in our activism in RHR and our relationship to others in this world, particularly our Arab neighbours, the Palestinians – it is possible to change our attitude and direction despite what we as individuals and as a people have done in the past and however much the results of those “sins” weigh upon us and however much damage they have done to our souls, our relationships and our physical environment. It is possible to forgive and move on – to choose life, rather than death, peace rather than war, mutual respect rather than hatred and fear, human rights rather than repression.

That is the challenge of Teshuva to which the sounds of the shofar, and words of the prayers of these approaching High Holy Days call us. Like Abraham our ancestor we can turn away from continuing human sacrifice, lay down the sacrificial knife and hear the Divine call to Life.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life!

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