Shabbat shalom for this “Shabbat Shuva”!
One of the most intriguing – and hopeful – aspects of the High Holiday season is the designation of Rosh HaShana as “Hayom Harat Olam”, the day on which the world was called into being, the day on which it was conceived. Given the heavier themes of the holidays to which we are more accustomed, this aspect of the holiday strikes a welcome, positive note: The fact that the universe exists at all is a cause for wonder, for appreciation, for acknowledgment, and for responsibility.
The idea of ‘Hayom Harat Olam’ extends a sense of promise and potential that can strongly motivate us to start the New Year on some positive notes. The Rosh HaShana holiday we celebrated earlier this week, then, was the day that recalls Creation, a day in which there was light instead of an overwhelming darkness, a day to ‘turn over a new leaf’, to make a fresh start, to turn the clock back, to begin again.
Likewise, this positive theme can be detected in the notion of Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath that falls between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. This special Sabbath gets its name from the first line of the Haftarah that the Rabbis instituted for the week: “Shuva Yisrael–Return O Israel unto the Lord thy God.” (Hosea 14:2) While each week Shabbat is, among other things, a celebration of the crowning of Creation, Shabbat Shuva directly parallels the primordial first Shabbat in its arrival on the heels of Rosh Hashana, the world’s ‘birthday.’
Rabbi A.J. Heschel characterizes any normal Shabbat this way: “To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily tuned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day in which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day in which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature – is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man’s progress than the Sabbath?”
How much the more so on Shabbat Shuva, the “Sabbath of Return”, a day which—for all the ‘returning’ we do—is really a day that holds out a great hope for our ability to “progress” in the coming year. Sometimes going back to square one is the best, or only, way to move forward.
Interestingly, it has been observed that “The Shabbat” (השבת) and “Teshuva” (תשובה) are spelled with the same Hebrew letters, suggesting that Shabbat is the tool par excellance for “returning” to the essential, to ourselves, to the way we want or need to live our lives.
I invite you, in the spirit of Rabbi Heschel, to define for yourself how at least one day of your week each week should be – your Shabbat: What you aspire to on that day, what that day can mean. How would you complete the sentence “To set apart one day a week for…”?
May we all embrace the opportunity to make tomorrow’s special Shabbat Shuva, as the Shabbat between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, a day that helps guide us throughout the year along the hopeful paths of freedom and independence, economic and environmental justice, paths of wholeness and health, rest, learning, community, holiness, and peace.
Shabbat Shuva Shalom,