Yom Rivii, 17 Tishri 5780
Hol Hamoed Sukkot Wednesday, 16 October 2019
Parashat Vayelech 2012

Parshat Shabbat Vayelech – Shabbat Shuvah by Rabbi Margaret Jacobi
21st September 2012

In this week’s Sidra, Moses faces the end of his life. Little hint is given of how he feels and on the surface he seems prepared to hand over to Joshua, following God’s command. But a series of Midrashim paints a different picture. Moses argues with God – despite being 120 years old, he does not wish to die.

There is a similar ambivalence concerning the Israelites. Moses seeks to reassure them: ‘Be strong and of good courage,’ he tells them,· ‘for the Eternal One is with you. He will not forsake you.’ Moses is like an anxious parent, reassuring his children that all is well as he prepares to leave them on their own.

But God is not so reassuring. He tells Moses that the people will go astray, and that because of this, evils and troubles will come upon them. Life is not as simple as Moses would wish. People do not always do what they should. They stray from the path of good deeds. Consequences follow which entail evil and suffering.· And the consequences involve the innocent along with the guilty.

In the past year we are all aware of· friends or relatives, the best of people, who have suffered illness or who have died.· They did good, not evil, yet they may have felt abandoned by God, saying in the words of our Sidra: ‘Are not these evils come upon us because God is not with us.’

As with those who are near us, so across the globe, the innocent are suffering. Conflicts continue, often forgotten after a brief time in the news.· Around the world, there are millions who suffer from hunger, violence and disease and who die before their time. They, too, seem abandoned by God.

In these Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the theme of life and death is at the fore. We recount how the Book of Life is opened at this time and the judgement made.· Rather than understanding these days as literally determining whether we live or die, we can think of the judgement as determining the quality of our lives.· Will we turn to good deeds in the year ahead and depart from sin?· Will we lead better lives in the New Year?· Even so, we are reminded of the uncertainties that lie ahead.· It is precisely at this time that we approach God in prayer. When we feel lost and abandoned, we seek God in repentance, the process known in Hebrew as Teshuvah, returning. During these days, the rabbis tell us, God is especially near to us. As we pray and examine our deeds, we can feel a renewed sense of God’s presence, comforting and sustaining us and giving us hope.

God’s presence can be comforting. But it is also commanding. We know that God demands of us to remember the suffering of others. Our deeds do have an effect on others, for good or ill.· We have a duty to remember them and do what we can to help them. We also have a duty to look at our responsibility for what is happening in the world – whether it is contributing to global warming,· supporting companies which benefit from slave workers or the arms trade, or the many small ways in which our indifference contributes to the suffering of the poorest.· We can all make a difference.

This year may we feel God’s comforting presence, but let us also listen to God’s commanding voice, which we hear in the cries of suffering and the oppressed. May we respond by bringing comfort to others and working to end their suffering.· May these season inspire us to bring nearer the time spoken of in the words of the prophets: ‘Each person will sit under their own vine and their own fig tree and none shall make them afraid.’