Haftarah Vayelech – Shabbat Shuva
(Hosea 14:2-10; Joel 2:15-27; Micah 7:18-20)
September 22, 2001
This haftarah which opens with the words “Shuva Yisrael” – “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have fallen because of your sin” (Hosea 14:2), lends its name to this special Shabbat which falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
This season finds us well aware of the human condition. We are overcome by our inadequacies. In this season when we make a special effort to draw closer to God, we somehow feel unable to shake off those things which separate us from Him. Is it possible to change? Can we right that which is wrong in our lives or are we destined to be overwhelmed by those qualities in ourselves which we do not like and which estrange us from those we love and from the relationship with God that we long for. Perhaps the answer to these questions can be found in the following midrash.
“An interpretation of the phrase ‘Return, O Israel, unto the Lord your God’. [The people] said to God: ‘Master of the Universe, we fear from our sins which are so many!’ David said: ‘for my sins have overcome my head.’ (Psalm 38:5) So too Ezra said: ‘for our sins have overcome our heads and our guilt has mounted unto the heavens.’ (Ezra 9:6) The Holy One Blessed be He replied: ‘Do not be afraid of this condition for even if your sins reach the sky, if you repent I will forgive you. Even if your sins reach not the first firmament, not the second firmament, not the third firmament, not the seventh firmament, but even if they reach up to the very throne of glory, if you repent, immediately I [God] will accept you. ‘Return, O Israel’ even if your sins reach up to the Lord your God.
(adapted from Pesikta Rabati Friedman ed. 185a)
The message found in this midrash is clear. No matter what our state, we should not despair. No matter how alienated from God we have made ourselves, God desires that we rectify our relationship with Him. He gives us the strength to change and to mend our ways. No chasm is too great to begin this process so there is no reason to desist from the effort. With Yom Kippur just days away, may this message give us the necessary strength to make ourselves whole and to return to God.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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