וילך/שובה

This week’s parsha is very short, but this week is also Shabbat [T]Shuva, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which focuses on repentance.  There is no special Torah portion read, but there is a special Haftorah (reading from the Prophets), which, in many communities, is Hoshea 14:2-10 and Michah 7:18-20.  The most famous verse in these selections from the Prophets is Hoshea 14:3: “Take with you words and return to Hashem; say to Him: ‘carry the burden of all our sins [i.e. forgive us our sins], teach us the proper path, and we will pay – instead of cows in offering – with our lips” (translation mine).  For me, this verse speaks to the need to heed the message of all the prayers said during the Yamim Nora’im, the High Holidays.  We must transcend sacrifice as a form of worship – or, in modern times without a Temple, transcend prayer – and approach Hashem (and other people) directly with words.  This idea is echoed in the Hafotrah read on Yom Kippur morning, from Yisha’ya (Isaiah), when he says: “Can such be the fast I choose, a day when man merely afflicts himself?  Can it be bowing his head like a bulrush and making a mattress of sackcloth and ashes?  Do you call this a fast and a day of favour to Hashem?  Surely this is the fast I choose: open the bonds of wickedness, dissolve the groups that pervert (justice), let the oppressed go free and annul all perverted (justice)” (58:5-6, ArtScroll translation).  In a sense, the liturgy is undermining itself, by declaring: ‘the most important thing is to change your actions, not merely to say a set of scripted words.’  It is only by paying attention to the words we say, the ancient wisdom recorded by our Prophets that we read communally during the holiest time of the year, that we can hope to truly repent.

It is not enough

To fast and beat our chests;

Actions must change

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