Drash on Shabbat Shuva 2019
Cantor David Bentley
Temple Shalom - Gold Coast
Most weeks the Shabbat takes its name from the parshah. This Shabbat is one of a handful known by a special name denoting its place in the calendar. We call it Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Return. This refers to our returning from waywardness to the paths of good. For surely, which of us has not strayed, at least a little? And so we undergo a process of self-directed renewal and change and moral betterment.
We call this process cheshbon nefesh, literally an "accounting of the soul" but more properly, that is to say, soul-searching or self-examination. The appropriate and expected outcome of this process is that we will renew ourselves in our determination to be the best that we can be and live a life which is fully informed, on a daily basis, by the teachings of our ancestors as embodied in the wisdom of Torah.
Judaism teaches that we should always strive to improve. However it is a key focus of our religious practice during the Ten Days of Awe, also known as the Ten Days of Repentance, running from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. The traditional liturgy for these Ten Days, heavy on the idea that God sits in Judgement and weighs every life, helps us to judge ourselves.
In the opening of this week's parshah, as Moshe prepares to hand over leadership of the people to Joshua, he enjoins Joshua to have strength and courage. It seems to me that these are two qualities that are particularly relevant to this week's task of cheshbon nefesh.
In charging Joshua to go about his task with strength and courage, Moshe is acknowledging the difficulty of the task. Our task, too, is a difficult one. It's not easy to do an honest self-appraisal, to face up to the wrongs we have done during the year just gone, to acknowledge weaknesses in our character that need repair. It's not easy to not only identify the ways in which we wish to be better, but to do the hard work of making those changes within ourselves. It needs constant attention to what we do and what we say, how we interact with others, how we think about ourselves. It needs determination if we are to be successful in replacing poor behaviour with the will to do only what is right.
To put ourselves through this, if we are to do it honestly and effectively, we, like Joshua, need strength and courage.
May we all find it.
On behalf of all of us in the Moetzah and UPJ leadership I take this opportunity to wish you, and all those dear to you, a sweet, healthy and prosperous new year, and an easy Fast.