D’var Torah for September 22, 2017

Tonight begins Shabbat Shuva, which always falls between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Most of the liturgy is the same as it is every Shabbat. However there are certain liturgical changes to note that we are in the Ten Days of Repentance. For example, on Shabbat Shuva, we continue to recite Zochreinu during the Amidah. There is also a special haftarah reading from Hosea 14.

The literal translation for Shabbat Shuva is Shabbat of Return. Part of the reason for this is because the haftarah begins with the word ‘return’. Therefore there is special emphasis placed on the concept of Teshuvah.

Teshuvah is typically translated to mean ‘repentance’. However, this translation really does not capture the true meaning of the word. Another example is tzedakah. Tzedakah is often translated to mean ‘charity’. The problem with this translation is charity is often something that is considered optional, and the giver typically feels good about what they are doing. Tzedakah, on the other hand, finds its roots in the word tzedek or justice. Doing tzedakah is more than just an act of charity, it is an act of rebalancing the world towards what is right. Therefore there is a compulsory element to it. We do not simply engage in tzedakah because it ‘feels good,’ instead we do it because that is what we are supposed to do. We are obligated to rebalance the scales by creating a more just and righteous society.

So too with teshuvah. Repentance is about apologizing. Teshuvah contains elements of that, but it is also about turning (shuv). It is about turning back to ways of Godliness and holiness. This means teshuvah is truly a never-ending process. We are all imperfect creatures prone to making mistakes. Judaism places an emphasis on learning from our mistakes and striving to make repairs, amends, and then turning away from old habits.

Creation is a never-ending process in our tradition. We are partners with God in the process of creation. To make the world a little more whole means we need to always be striving towards acts of tzedakah and teshuvah.

On this Shabbat may we all find new ways to make meaning out of Shuva. May we continue to be inspired to turn towards our best selves as we prepare to enter into the final days of the YamiimNoraim, the High Holy Days.

But as an aside, if we still don’t get it right, we have until the end of Sukkot. So there are always more opportunities to do what is just and right. All we need to do is be willing to take the first steps in the correct direction.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff