By Susan Goldberg Schwartz
This week we celebrate the last Shabbat in September, in the month of Elul and in the year 5779. The following Shabbat will take place during the 10 holiest days of the year, Yamin noraim, the days of awe and repentance, when we ask for forgiveness from anyone we have wronged and we stand before God, seeking T’shuvah. During these days we are given an opportunity to recognize our sins, feel regret, resolve not to do them again and amend our behavior.
Our sages taught that during the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into their soul and search their deeds, that he or she may make confession. I have spent Elul reflecting on my past year, thinking of times when I may have ‘missed the mark’ and planning to change my behavior in the coming year.
Parashat Nitzavim, which we read this week, has Moses speaking to all the people of Israel one more time before they cross into the Promised Land. Some of the most central principles of the Jewish faith are repeated, including Jewish unity, ‘doing’ Torah through our acts, words and heart and the principle of choice. Moses instructs the Israelites to choose good, to keep the covenant that was made in Sinai.
This lesson of choice is particularly resonant this time of year. Our tradition teaches that we can have a direct and active role in changing our fate for the coming year. We recite u’t’shuvah u’t’filah u’tzedakah – repentance, prayer and deeds – can change our fate. We are given an opportunity to change, but it is up to each of us to do so.
T’shuvah is usually translated as repentance or return. However, it also means answer, response and reply. When the shofar sounds this Rosh Hashanah, how will we each answer the question, ‘how can I do better today and every day?’ While our focus to change our lives is particularly strong during the days of awe, we can also choose to make important changes all year long.
Cantor Susan Wehle z”l, taught a beautiful Shlomo Carlebach song that I return to each year. It is sung by his daughter, Neshama Carlebach, HERE.
“Return again, return again,
return to the land of your soul.
Return to what you are,
Return to who you are,
Return to where you are
born and reborn again.”
Shana tova – may we all have a sweet and meaningful new year.