Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Nitzavim-Vayeilech

Every time my mom comes to visit I know three things are going to happen: 1. I am going to really enjoy the time with her (yes, mom, I mean it); 2. We are going to go out for dinner a lot, since mom hates when we have to fuss in the kitchen; 3. When we hit the last three days of the visit, the mantra will start, “You plan and plan, and then it is over … just like that.” She spends a lot of time and energy looking forward to the times that we get to spend with her, and then it passes, as if times moves more quickly during the visit than ever it did beforehand. Mom is not that unique in this feeling; we all plan and plan for special times that pass too quickly.  Even while we know that “time away” is temporary, there is a piece of us that always wishes to draw the time out and make it last and last. We may love our everyday lives, but the idea of staying in the mode of “special time” beckons loudly.


It is when mom comes to visit that I am reminded that I don’t take Shabbat seriously enough. I am not thinking of this day in terms of rest or refraining from work; as Rabbi, I am actually paid to work on Shabbat … go figure. Shabbat is a time to live a day (or at least part of the day) by different rules than we live the rest of the week. Heschel taught us that we spend six days a week pursuing things and power, but that we have an opportunity on Shabbat to spend the day pursuing the blessing of being. Our tradition teaches that the Messianic Age is an age of true peace; an age when all people focus on the blessing of being for themselves and for each other. Hence, we are taught that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come.


On Shabbat, my congregation gathers and we get to spend time kindling and renewing relationships. We get to spend intentional time with our extended family and guests praying for awareness, for strength, for renewal, and for peace. We spend all week working hard, looking anxiously forward to this shared respite, and most of us get to (or choose to) spend only a small fraction of this day just being.


We conclude each Shabbat with Havdalah, ceremony of separation– one of the most beautiful religious rituals across religious traditions. As beautiful as it is, it is also a sad moment in time.  When we participate in the observance of Havdalah it means that we will be returning to the regular daily pursuit of stuff for yet another week. For whatever time for Shabbat that we did get to observe, even that little piece is sacred time. Then we go to sleep, wake to the alarm … and start the madness over again.  Now, I suspect that if you polled people, most would believe that they are good people. I bet a majority would even confess to doing something that changed someone’s life. If the vast majority of the world feels this way, that we are good people, then why does Shabbat end?


This week’s Torah portion speaks to this very dilemma. In Deuteronomy 30, we read a lot about what happens when we return to God and see God manifest in our lives. This is, of course prophecy for the future. It is not that we are not in touch with divinity, but the text says, “It will come to pass…” We are told that we will know when humanity gets it, because humanity will then … get it … get the age of wholeness and restoration. So the text tells us that it is as yet unresolved, but we do not need the text to tell us that we are not there yet, we live the above referenced weekly cycle.

The world to come (the Messianic Age) is also called the Eternal Shabbat. The medieval scholar Don Isaac Abravanel wrote, “The events prophesied in this chapter are still destined to be fulfilled, as they had yet been realized, not in the days of the First Temple, nor in the days of the Second Temple; it is the sum of our comfort and our hope, and the cure for all our troubles.” Yes, he faced some horrific challenges, as he lived at the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition in Spain. In fact, the day that King Ferdinand appointed him to be in charge of the treasury of all Spain, Torquemada announced the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition. He had held the same position in Portugal, prior to having to flee; a new king arose who headed all former advisors to the king. Many look at Abravanel and argue that this notion of an “eternal” day of peace is not “eternal,” but temporal. So what is eternal?

Eternal is the hope that the periods of respite that we have enjoyed are real, and that the day will come when we find ways to hold on to those blessings longer. For Abravanel; his faith succeeded time and time again. His commentaries are very real and very practical … and filled with hope. Despite what he was living through, he reminded us that, “It will come to pass.” We have to do our part to celebrate each moment, and to be the exemplars of celebration to others. We have to strive to serve, and even when beaten down, we get back up again to do even more. The world falters because of our pursuit of power, and it heals and changes because of our pursuit of blessings. Seems to me that Shabbat is the most precious of days, for it gives us an opportunity to see, if we open our eyes, what the world can be. I will also tell you, that the day I give up believing that hope will heal this world, I need to quit my job. I am a prisoner of hope; not a bad thing to be stuck with.


Shabbat Shalom, and may the new year upon which we are about to embark bring you only blessings. More importantly, this year, may you commit to sharing blessings with even more people around you.