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Returning To Our Innocence #746

09/30/2022 06:20:32 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Veyelech

Returning To Our Innocence


When I was about six years old, my father took me on a very important mission.

It was my cousin’s second birthday party, and it coincided with my father being awarded rights to sell go-karts in our little corner of suburban Montreal.

My father – who was and will always be a bit of a performer – dressed up in a clown suit. And with a balloon attached to his torn black top hat, he circled around my cousin’s back yard with kids chasing the go-kart and roaring with laughter.

Minutes later, my mother found me sitting in the grass, knees folded up, with tears streaming down my face.

“What’s the matter, dear?” my concerned mother asked.

“They’re laughing at my daddy,” I sobbed through my tears.

There’s a photograph of that embarrassing little scene in my parents’ favorite family album; there may even be a Super 8 movie.

For obvious reasons, it’s not one of my favorite memories. But over the years, as I’ve observed our children and grandchildren get upset and feel sorry for a dead mouse or a wounded bird, I often reflect upon how precious and innocent those early days were.

I was convinced that the tree at the back of our yard had feelings when they chopped it down. I felt sorry for my parents’ 1962 Galaxie 500 when they traded it in for a more upscale Oldsmobile.

Those were the days when we - as children - actually empathized with so much around us: people, animals, teddy bears and even worn-out cars.

You may have a similar memory or two. How interesting that over the years, we’ve acquired so many veils. 

Our peers, family members, work mates and the rest of society have taught us we must be strong – that weakness and too much sensitivity are signs of vulnerability.

But what if we could return to those innocent days where our empathy enabled us to reach out and show sensitivity to others? What if we focused less on ourselves and more on the feelings of others?

In many ways, this particular Shabbat is that opportunity.

These next 24 hours, within Jewish tradition, is known as Shabbat Teshuvah – the Shabbat of Repentance. 

The root of the word Teshuvah is more closely aligned with the verb lashuv – which means “to return.”

We are halfway between the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

This past Monday and Tuesday we celebrated newness, officially launching a new year – 5783. 

Although the universe was launched many more years before 5783, Judaism chooses that number because the Bible tells us that we can trace 5783 years from the time of Adam and Eve to the present.

During Rosh Hashanah we traditionally wear white; our Torahs and synagogue tabletops are covered in white. We dip apples and honey and enjoy the company of family and friends.

But there is more.

The High Holidays provide an opportunity for us to assess our lives, which our daily routine rarely affords us.

While most of us have lived more than half of our lives, the High Holidays remind us that there is so much life ahead. So few days, but so much opportunity to make each day count.

The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur compels us to perform a cheshbon nefesh – a soul evaluation – and ask whether we are just putting in time, or whether we are truly achieving what God put us here to do.

Synagogue provides us with a sense of belonging. We meet with our community members, we pray, and we sing the season’s storied melodies.

We link up with tradition. In many ways, we become 3,000- year-olds. That is how long we have been observing these traditions.

But perhaps the most important aspect of the season, contained within the act of teshuvah, is “returning.”

Remember when we weren’t so skeptical? Remember when we weren’t calling ourselves “realists” as a cover for increased impatience and cynicism?

Remember when we saw a classmate hurting and reached out to share our toys?

Remember when we believed we could make a difference?

The reality is those goals, aspirations and possibilities have not changed.

We have.

This Shabbat and the days to follow provide us with a gift – the chance to be happier.

For while we live in a very “selfie-based” society, maybe what is missing from our hearts, is chesed - kindness and love for each other.

As we remind ourselves that we are not in this alone - that we are members of families and communities, large and small - there are small things we can do to change today.

On this Shabbat Teshuvah – the Shabbat of Return - let us give thanks for what we have and clear out the dead space in our souls by releasing and forgiving those who have caused us harm.

Let us celebrate our loved ones and be kinder. Let us have the courage to smile at a stranger, and make cynicism less dear to us.

So, during this Shabbat, as we embrace change, let us reflect upon a more optimistic time. For I believe that those times were more honest and true than the cynicism and “blamism” that consume too many of us today.

We have a choice.

The key to improving our happiness will not be found in the “same old same old.” Rather, we will find it by returning to those times of care, empathy and chesed, when we felt for our fellow human beings – even dads in clown suits.

It is upon that foundation, that our true happiness can be found, as we ponder our future and a better life in the year that awaits.

Indeed, what we write in the Book of Life is truly in our hands.

Shabbat Shalom, Shannah Tovah.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784