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A Year in Review

09/09/2021 10:02:52 AM


As I’ve been reflecting on my family’s High Holiday experience, I realized that my pandemic baby has never had an in-person encounter with the Torah. Whereas my oldest was a regular in the beit midrash and sanctuary and would accompany me to minyan, my pandemic baby must assume that synagogue life is two-dimensional and virtual. To be fair, my daughter has experienced a tot service here or there, but her exposure to synagogue life pales in comparison to my son’s who was absentmindedly answering amen to the kaddishes by this age. I find myself overcompensating for this shortfall in Judaic exposure by doubling down on ritual in the home, and committing to be more intentional about her exposure once the pandemic is in a more manageable place.  

There is a confluence of a few factors that promote my meditation on my family’s Jewish observance. As we find ourselves in the middle of the Ten Days of Repentance, the ten days from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is an appropriate time for reflection and introspection. It’s a time to think about ways to be more intentional with our actions and modify our behaviors to best conform to the ideal versions of ourselves. Additionally, the Torah portion this week is Vayelech, where the Israelites receive a commandment to assemble the entire community, including the women, strangers and children, in order to hear the words of the Torah to “hear and learn to revere the Lord your God and observe faithfully every word of the Torah” (Deuteronomy 31:12). The Spanish Medieval commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra elaborates that those who are wise will understand, and those who don’t, like the children, will have the opportunity to learn. The assumption is that no matter what your skill level, this commandment to assemble has meaning and purpose for everyone present. Specifically, the children will become exposed to the Torah, will be able to ask their questions, and gain a deeper connection and understanding of our tradition. Similarly, as our entire community congregates together for our High Holiday services, I often reflect on the beauty of such a diverse collection of individuals, each with unique strengths and experiences, coming together in a shared and common purpose. Thus, for all these reasons, I reflect on where my family fits in the mosaic of our community and where they are on their individual religious journeys. 

This shabbat has a special name and is called Shabbat Shuva – a Shabbat of Returning. Taken from the root of the word Teshuvah/Repentance, this shabbat is a time for reflection and recommitting to a righteous and virtuous life. Coupled with the opportunity for reflection afforded by the Day of Rest, this Shabbat is a time to transcend the physical and the mundane and focus on the values that guide our lives. Akin to the project of New Year resolutions, we have the opportunity to figure out where we ought to be in life. We have the opportunity to adjust our heading and ensure that we are navigating along the correct course. For even though the pandemic might have thrown us a curveball, and even though this last year might have given us reasons to detour from our path, we still remain committed to getting back on track and living our lives to their fullest potential. 

G’mar Chatimah Tovah, and Shabbat Shalom

Sun, March 3 2024 23 Adar I 5784