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Return, Repentance, and Repair

09/22/2023 09:03:08 AM


Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Ha’azinu, Moses’s song to the People of Israel right before he leaves them for good. But what makes this Shabbat really special, is that it is Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, a Shabbat of return. The Torah portion for Shabbat Shuva can vary slightly, depending on the year and how the weekly portions shake out, but the Haftarah is always from Hosea 14:2-10: 

Return, O Israel, to the ETERNAL your God, For you have fallen because of your sin. Take words with you And return to GOD. Say:  “Forgive all guilt  And accept what is good; Instead of bulls we will pay [The offering of] our lips.  Assyria shall not save us, No more will we ride on steeds; Nor ever again will we call Our handiwork our god, Since in You alone orphans find pity!” I will heal their affliction, Generously will I take them back in love; For My anger has turned away from them. I will be to Israel like dew; He shall blossom like the lily, He shall strike root like a Lebanon tree. His boughs shall spread out far, His beauty shall be like the olive tree’s, His fragrance like that of Lebanon. They who sit in his shade shall be revived: They shall bring to life new grain, They shall blossom like the vine; His scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim [shall say]: “What more have I to do with idols? When I respond and look to [God], I become like a verdant cypress.” Your fruit is provided by Me. The wise will consider these words, The prudent will take note of them. For the paths of GOD are smooth; The righteous can walk on them, While sinners stumble on them.



Hosea speaks of returning to God, of Teshuvah, of repentance and repair. Ibn Ezra asks, how do we return to God? Little by Little. Franz Rosenzweig, a late 19th/early 20th century Jewish philosopher, warned that trying too hard to “return” too fast can cause someone to trip up more. Specifically, he was talking about becoming a Ba’al Teshuva, a secular Jew who becomes Orthodox, and that trying to assimilate into an Orthodox community all at once would be overwhelming. It is ok to take on Mitzvot little by little to become accustomed to them. 

I find Rosenzeig’s message applicable to us in other ways, as well. Most of us here at Ner Shalom are unlikely to become Ba’alei Teshuvah, but we may want to try to do ALL the good deeds! Which is admirable, but a lesson I find I have to keep learning is that one person cannot save the world. It is better to do what we can to return our sphere of influence to its best state, a Gan Eden-like paradise as much as possible, rather than worry about things completely beyond our reach. We can advocate and boycott and demand to try to encourage legislation or business practices that cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, but ultimately the big corporations that run on fossil fuels need to be the ones to make big changes to stop the impending climate crisis. If we try to bite off more than we can chew, we may fall into despair and never return at all. 

By doing local acts of teshuvah for the environment, like our Reverse Tashlich, we may not stop climate change, but we make a real difference in our own communities. It matters to the people who get to walk those clean trails, the wildlife that get to live without getting caught in plastics, and a whole ecosystem that depends on clean water and soil. It is still a return, a way of taking the steps that are available to us now, and moving ever forward toward a cleaner and holier future.

May 5784 be a year of return, to clearer skies, cleaner water, and healthier bodies of all living things. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 


Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784