This week’s Torah portion of Ki Tavo (Deut. 26:1-29:8) teaches us how we are to enter the Promised Land, what to do, what we need to remember of the 40 year journey in the desert, and more. It is a teaching about how to enter any new situation, home, or relationship: we need to honor what we’ve experienced in the past while simultaneously embracing the right and righteous standards that we believe will promise future success.
Towards the end of the portion, there is a fascinating verse. “God did not give you a heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear, until this day.” (Deut. 29:3) As we enter any new situation or relationship, we must bring an integrity and freshness that is based in past experiences…but is not held down by the past. We need to truly open all our senses and souls every time we enter into a new situation. This is an especially important teaching for all of us as we approach Rosh HaShana in just over a week.
The 13th-century mystic Rumi taught, “Mysteries are not meant to be solved. The eye goes blind when it only wants to see why.” This Torah portion reminds us that our senses are not only for understanding the physical world, but also for deepening our spiritual relationship with God. God knows our past, present, and future; and we need to look deeper inside ourselves and discover our own soul and our soul’s true purpose. (Our “tikkun olam”, which, contrary to how it is often interpreted does not mean “social action”; but rather is an ancient Hebrew term used to describe the true purpose and unique job that each of us has in the Universe.) We must look past external circumstances and use our eyes, ears, and especially heart to awaken our souls and become aware of the Divine relationship. Or to quote Rabbi Tevye of Fiddler on the Roof, to recognize “who we are, and what God expects us to do”.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, it is crucial to remember this teaching. All year, we easily forget what is important and get caught up in our physical experience. What we see or hear distracts us, keeping us in a cycle of concern only about physical needs and passions. Mortgages, school, finances and the like become our focus. We pay attention to the distractions that we see rather than remembering that sight itself is miraculous. We focus on the music instead of being in awe that God created humans with musical talent. This passage reminds us to step back for a moment, re-evaluate our lives and remember the real purpose of our souls.
Cheshbon ha-nefesh, an “accounting of the soul,” is the process we are to utilize during this holy time to look at our life practices and values. Have I really lived a life of depth this past year? Have my real priorities been reflected in my behavior? We must not be distracted by the glitter and sounds, but instead focus on the deeper and truer desires of our soul. It is a process of honest self-evaluation on all levels in order to clean up the messes we created this past year, and to enter into this New Year with a truly fresh start at the deepest personal levels. (A special class is being offered on Cheshbon HaNefesh this Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 7:30pm at Stonehaus at The Westlake Village Inn if you would like to explore this topic in greater detail.)
It is important to do this process both individually and with others; and of vital importance that all Jews observe the important holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur together within a community. We all need to hear that Shofar blast to awaken our hearts and souls; to chant the sacred prayers of forgiveness together; to remember our dead through the power of the Yizkor service surrounded by a holy spiritual community. If you have not yet registered for our High Holiday services at The Canyon Club, please do so immediately while there are still some tickets left at www.nersimcha.org/high-holidays There is no mandatory cost for attendance, but pre-registration is required for security purposes. If you are out of Southern California, you can stream our services by going to www.nersimcha.org/high-holidays-out-of-southern-california-registration. But let your eyes really see, your ears truly hear, and let your heart experience an authentic knowing of who you are at the deepest levels by sharing these upcoming holidays together within a spiritual community.
In this new year, may we all be blessed to truly take an accounting of ourselves without distractions of physicality, and reconnect to a deeper love and relationship with God as individuals and with the support of others in holy communities.
Rabbi Michael Barclay
Aug. 27th, 2021
19th of Elul, 5781