4/5 Oct: Shabbat Shuva (Vayelech): Shabbat comes in 6:17 pm, ends 7:16 pm
Parashat Veyelech: Writing Your Torah
It is an interesting time of year to think about the writing of books. We are in the midst of the great metaphor of the Books of Life and Death. Just a few days ago, we stood before the ark and sang of our fates: ‘On Rosh HaShanah it is written; on Yom Kippur, it is sealed.’ And now here we are, between the writing and the sealing. The books are open.
Parashat Vayelech is also concerned with the writing of books. It is in this parashah that the Levites are instructed that they must put the Sefer Torah, that Moses has written, into the Ark of the Covenant in order that it will serve as a witness. Likewise, we find in this parashah the command to write ‘this song’ (understood by some commentators to be the following song in Ha’azinu, and others to be the entire Torah), in order that the song will stand as a witness to us.
This latter command has been read by some to mean that all Jews are commanded to write a Sefer Torah. Though it is usually considered enough for us to own books of Torah in our homes, I find this command to write a Torah to be particularly poignant in this time of year, in which we see books as symbols of how we are living our lives. In this metaphor, we usually cast God as the scribe, penning our names into the appropriate book. However, in the text of Parashat Vayelech, we are commanded to be the scribes.
My friend and colleague Rabbi Jonathan Hodson likes to share a piece of advice that he received from his grandmother: ‘You might be the only Bible that some people will ever read.’ Her words seem to echo through these symbols of the season. In what ways are we writing the Torah in our lives? Which of our decisions and actions are the crowns on the letters, or the imperfections of a scribe’s hand trembling? And what Torah are others reading when they interact with us?
A note on Yom Kippur
Uv’shofar gadol yitaka – a great shofar will be sounded. It is the sound of the season. Yom Kippur will constitute a break from the shofar; the only voices calling out will be our own. However, after the final moments of Yom Kippur have slipped by, we will complete our prayers with a t’kiah g’dolah – one long blast of the shofar.
The minhag (custom) of HEMS/Mosaic Masorti is to partake in this blast together as a community, with as many shofars and blowers as possible. I have never seen (or heard!) this before, and imagine that it must provide a great crescendo for our Yom Kippur journey. I look forward to experiencing this with you!