Weekly Torah Talk on Shabbat Shuvah/Vayeilech 5772

on Wednesday, 19 September 2012. Posted in Torah Talks

Near Death Experiences

It’s almost a cliché: sometimes it takes facing death for us to learn to appreciate life. Twice this week our Torah portions have compelled us to look at death.  We are being taught that when we face death we can learn to value life, and to live it as though it truly matters.

Earlier this week, in Rosh Hashanah’s Torah reading of the Akeidat Yitzchak, Abraham was told to sacrifice his son but the killing was actually averted.  Our Shabbat Shuvah portion of Vayeilech, near the end of the Torah in the very last stages of the book of Deuteronomy, tells of the final days of Moses.  Here the killing—that is, the death of Moses—will surely come.  In spite of his pleas to God to be allowed to enter the Promised Land, his fate is sealed. 

In this season we speak and sing of the image of the Sefer Chayim, the Book of Life, asking God to write us into it for a good year.  We great each other with “L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu,” may you be written in the Book of Life, and “Gmar Chatimah Tovah,” may you be sealed in the Book of Life.  We ask again and again for life—which means we are also thinking about the possibility that we won’t make the cut and will be left out of the Book of Life.  That, of course, means death.

The connection in this season of judging, is ultimately to Yom Kippur, a day in which we dress in the white clothing of the shroud and face our own personal judgment day.  For if on Rosh Hashanah, the Yom HaDin, like Abraham and unlike Moses, we had the chance to avert an evil decree, the opportunity to turn a kind of spiritual death sentence into a renewed message of hope, renewal, and spiritual cleansing, on Yom Kippur we are now in the appellate process.  We are asking the High Court to reverse any evil decree, and to allow us, unlike Moses but very much like Isaac, to be saved for a year of life and blessing. 

May this week’s powerful Torah readings help you to find your own messages of life and truth, of Teshvuah and return.  And may you be blessed with a gmar chatimah tovah, written for a year of goodness in the Book of Life.

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