Friday, October 3, 2008

Take with you d'varim (words?) - Parashat Vayelech

Hayamim chol’fim, shanah overet, aval hamanginah l’olam nish’eret

The days change, a year passes, but the melody remains.

The words to this Israeli folk/children’s’ song come to mind when reading this week’s short, but significant portions – the parasha of Vayelech from the Torah, where Moshe prepares to submit his poetic legacy to the people of Israel, and the Haftarah, which gives the name of Shuva to this special Shabbat. I would like to focus on the opening of this haftarah, and an important lesson that can be drawn from it.

This week’s haftarah is actually a composite of selections from among three of the twelve minor prophets, beginning with the concluding portion of the book of Hosea. Hosea’s prophecy deals with what Professor Amy Kalmanofsky calls the wayward wife metaphor, in which God is the husband and Israel, an unfaithful wife. But as Hosea’s words come to a close, the message is one of hope and reconciliation, appropriate for this season in which we reflect on our past deeds and how we can alter and improve our relationships with God and those close to us. The prophet, acting as God’s conduit, announces:

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
For you have fallen because of your sin.
3 Take d’varim with you
And return to the Lord.
Say to Him:
"Forgive all guilt
And accept what is good;
Instead of bulls we will pay
[The offering of] our lips. (Hosea 14:2-3)

In Hosea’s vision, our return to God is not based on materialistic of financial acts – but Rabbi David Kimche (RaDaK) argues that it cannot be just words either. He explains, “I do not ask from you gold or silver or offerings, but rather a complete t’shuva with all of your heart. “

We are told that we can’t buy our T’shuvah with material good, but Hosea seems to imply that Teshuva does not take place in a vacuum; while we should surely start fresh with our words and actions, we are not required to go it alone. This prophetic call for our return is phrased in the plural, to remind us that repentance is designed to take place in a community, like ours here at MSRH and JTS, where we can recognize that we all have faults and shortcomings, and we can support one another in our growth and learning over the coming years. I would like to interpret Hosea’s term of d’varim as words of Torah, but Torah in the broadest sense. I hope that we can all find our spark of Torah in the new year, whether it is by studying with a friend, repairing the world, or anything in between. God has called us to return, our only requirement is to hear that call and take with us D’varim on our journey.

Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Chatima Tovah!

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