Saturday, September 5, 2020
Sixteenth Day of Elul 5780
Shabbat Ki Tavo
Today is Shabbat, the most holy day in Jewish tradition. It is our day of rest and our day of joyfully feeling God’s presence all around us.
This particular Shabbat is called Shabbat Ki Tavo for the Torah portion we read today. In this portion, Moses gives a sermon to the Israelites at the end of their forty year journey. He told them, “You have seen all that Adonai did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt… Yet, Adonai has not given you a heart to know or eyes to see or ears to hear until this day” (Deuteronomy 29:1-3). Moses appears to say that, despite the miracles that God did for the Israelites, they failed to appreciate it.
However, Rashi, the great medieval commentator, understood this verse in a gentler, more forgiving way. He wrote that Moses did not appreciate how much the Israelites had learned “until this day,” that is, until his final speech at the end of forty years. Rashi wrote that it takes a long time for students to really grasp the meaning of their teacher’s words, and that it takes a long time for teachers to recognize all that their students have learned.
That’s a good lesson for us as we travel through this season of t’shuvah. It is easy for us to be discouraged in the process of t’shuvah. We are likely to say to ourselves, “Here I am, year after year, seeing the same faults in myself as last Yom Kippur, making the same promises to change. What’s the point of doing this if I just keep making the same mistakes over and over again?”
We need to remember that change can take a very long time and, because of this, we might not notice it while it is happening. If you cast your mind back to the person you were forty years ago – or even ten years ago – you probably will recognize that you have changed for the better in many ways. You have learned lessons from life and you have learned from this process of introspection and self-improvement. It just takes time.
Of course, we want to learn and become better more quickly. There are ways to help ourselves to do that. Doing the work of t’shuvah can help along life’s journey. However, the greatest enemies of change and improvement are feelings of despair, hopelessness and frustration. Stay positive. Stay hopeful. You have come far. You will go farther.
Practice for this day:
Write down one to three ways in which you are a better person today than you were ten, twenty, thirty or forty years ago.