Shedding the weight of our habits
by Jhos Singer
Shabbat Shalom, Chaverim—
It’s Shabbat Shuva this week, the Shabbat of turning, the first Shabbat of the new year, the Shabbat of facing, making, and accepting change. This time of year is set aside to notice what has or should have shifted in our lives over the past year—the goals met or ignored, the patterns established or broken, the relationships fostered or discarded. It is the lead up to Yom Kippur, the holy day of our small death.
What a transgressive move it was for our rabbis to imagine atonement as death! The holiest day of the year is a dress rehearsal for our last breath: what do we regret, what do we savor, how did we spend our time, money and energy, who did we include in our life and who did we forget?
I don’t think it is any coincidence that our Torah portion for this Shabbat is both short and panegyric. Moses is spent and nearly done. He has one poem left in him, but that has to wait for next week—and is preparing himself to let go. He says:
“I am one hundred and twenty years old today and I can no longer go out and come in; The Great Mystery has said to me, ‘Dude, you are soooo NOT going over this river Jordan.’” (Deut. 31:2)
End of the line buddy, that’s it. Well, sort of…
Moses launches into his final act, first by graciously passing the mantle to Joshua, and then, as his final radical deed, setting into motion the great (if sometimes contentious) relationship between the God Wrestlers and Text.
“And it came to pass, when Moses had finished writing the words of this Torah into a book and it was completed, that he called the Levites, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Mystery, saying: ‘Take this book of Illumination, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant with God, your Source, so it will be there as a witness for you. Because I know you—you are a rebellious and stiff necked bunch—and look, even while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against Spirit; so how much more so after my death?” (Deut. 31:24-28)
Moses knows that there is drama ahead—drama that will continue without him—and he simply has to let it go, step back, own his story and his work, and trust that something of him will survive. In this incredible moment he expresses faith in notably imperfect people. He casts his lot with the stiff-necked and rebellious. And the most amazing thing is the best is yet to come.
Moses hasn’t even completely arrived yet—the full force of his soul, his potential, and his art is not going to manifest in its entirety until next week in Parshat Ha’azinu, with Moses’ magnificent swan song. In his final moments, he transforms into a bard, an emcee, a poet. Moses arrives, just in time for his physical death, fully realized, all impediments fallen away, glorious.
Now imagine that instead of dying, Moses receives a reprieve. Because that’s us, that’s me, that’s you. Yom Kippur is a day of death and rebirth, transformation and revelation, the weight of the past yielding to the lightness of the future.
May this Shabbat Shuva, this resting shift, be an opportunity for you to shed the weight of your habits, beliefs, and entanglements; and in their stead may you find yourself blossoming into exactly who, and what you were always meant to be. Julie and I look forward to seeing you next Tuesday evening as we continue to journey with inspiration through these Days of Awe.
Ketivah v’Chatimah Tovah / May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.