Each year as the Days of Awe approach, many of us may struggle with the reality that is upon us. We all want to reach out and make genuine strides toward our Maker, but we are caught up in the whirlwind of daily life. Somehow, however, by the time these days pass us by, we may be able to pull it together and have a real moment with G-d in which we reconnect and energize ourselves for the new year ahead.
But time passes, and those feelings often subside. How can we maintain them? The answer it seems, is through heartfelt prayer and our recognition of the centrality of Torah to our lives. Devarim 11;12 says that the Land of Israel is “a land which Hashem your G-d seeks always, always are the eyes of Hashem your G-d on it from the beginning of the year (Hashana) until the end of year (shana).”
Why does it not also say the end of the year like it does for the beginning? Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, known as the Satmar Rav, provides an answer. At the beginning of every year we say to ourselves that this is going to be the year: I will fix my flaws, achieve x, y and z, and become a better person. But at the end of the year, it’s just shana; just another year. Nothing great was achieved and it was not the year that we expected.
He continues that in nusach sefard kedusha we pray that Hashem redeem us in such a way that the end of the year will be like its beginning, allowing us to look back and say this really was a great year; it was the year that I envisioned at the beginning.
Furthermore, this week’s Torah portion, which begins the Torah’s depiction of the final day of Moshe’s life, opens with the words “you are all standing today,” which the 12th century biblical commentator Ibn Ezra explained to mean that the Jewish nation was encamped around the Aron, the Holy Ark of the Covenant which contained the Tablets of the Law, and represented the Torah itself.
On the day he returned his pure soul to its Maker, taking leave of his beloved Jewish nation for the final time, the greatest teacher our People has ever known, Moshe, left us encamped in such a way that we would merit to glean from him one parting and all-important lesson. The Torah must always be at the center of our lives, both individually as well as on a national scale.
Through every moment of every day, be those moments mundane and seemingly ordinary or be they moments of spirituality, we must be guided by the Torah’s laws and inspired by its teachings. We must live by its edicts and choose our course by gleaning the many lessons of its narrative. We must truly be, unquestionably, the People of the Book.
That was the parting lesson of our nation’s greatest teacher, and that is the lesson which we are meant to remind ourselves of each year as we approach these upcoming Days of Awe. How are we to reconnect to our Creator? How shall we assure ourselves of a good and sweet judgment, full of only blessing? By allowing the Torah’s holy and radiant light to shine upon every aspect of our lives.
May we all merit that through our prayers and determination to learn and live by our holy Torah, the new year which is now upon us will in fact be the year for which we hope. JN
Rabbi Yisroel Weiner is the head of school at Phoenix Hebrew Academy.