Sabbath Service Notes
The following notes are from today's Sabbath service at a congregation called Beit Ha Derekh in West Texas. The congregation leader is Ben Burton.
Today is the final Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah on Tuesday, 7 September 2021, the start of the year 5782 on the Hebrew calendar.
The theme of the day is teshuva or repentance: changing one's mind, turning back from misdeeds or mistakes and going the other direction.
This is a common theme for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish "New Year": taking stock of one's life and turning from old deeds to begin anew.
Let our eyes behold Thy return to Zion in mercy. Blessed are You Adonai, who returns Your Shekinah to Zion. (From the Amidah prayer.)
Seven things were created before the world was created, and these are they: the Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. (Pesachim 54A, Soncino Press Edition)
If committing misdeeds is the disease plaguing us, then it is interesting that the cure -- repentance -- were created before the disease took root.
You stand upright this day, all of you, before the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 29:9).
"'This day' is a reference to Rosh Hashanah, the day on which we all stand in judgment before G-d (the Torah reading of Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah)."
~ Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, cited at www.chabad.org
Nitzavim is the 51st weekly Torah reading in the annual Torah reading cycle, comprised of Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20 . As Ben Burton notes, the Hebrew term translated in Deuteronomy 29:9 above as "stand upright" doesn't just refer to standing up. It refers to standing in reverence, as we would stand for the National Anthem at the beginning of a sporting event. Deuteronomy is, in essence, three sermons given by Moses prior to his death at Mount Nebo. The children of Israel weren't merely standing at attention while Moses was presenting these sermons; they were standing in reverent awe before the prophet of the Almighty as he was imparting his final wisdom to them, as if they were standing in the presence of Adonai Himself.
So, if Rabbi Baal Shem Tov is correct in his interpretation, then the events related in Deuteronomy 29:9 occurred on Yom Teruah, the "Day of Trumpets" -- what we refer to as Rosh Hashanah today, the modern "New Year" celebration on the Jewish civil calendar.
Continuing with the theme of repentance, Moses says the following further in the sermon, in Deuteronomy 30 (New King James Version):
Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, and you return to Adonai your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you.
The phrase "and you return to Adonai your God and obey His voice" refers to repentance: turning from disobedience against Adonai to obedience to Him, a 180-degree turn from darkness to light.
According to Rashi (cited at www.chabad.org ), "The Hebrew word used here for 'He will return' is not veheishiv -- which means 'He will bring back' -- but veshav, which literally means 'He will come back.' Our sages learned from this that the Divine presence resides among Israel, as it were, in the misery of their exile, and when the Jews are redeemed, G-d speaks of it as His own redemption -- He Himself returns along with Israel's exiles." In other words, Adonai repents along with Israel, for He is ever among His people.
When you repent of something -- be it a small mistake or a major misdeed -- and you resolve never to do that again and to make restitution for your misdeeds and seek forgiveness, Adonai repents with you and will help you in this endeavor. When you resolve to fix what you messed up, you aren't acting alone. You have the strength of Adonai Himself with you!
Almost as if he is speaking beyond time and space itself, Moses states the following in Deuteronomy 29:14-15:
Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath, but with him who stands here with us this day before Adonai our God, and also with him who is not with us this day.
"...With him who is not with us this day." How many generations of adherents to the faith of Moses have been born since he gave this speech at the plains of Moab thousands of years ago, both Jew and Gentile? He speaks of all of us here, and this covenant was made with us before our ancestors were even conceived. Don't the traditions at Passover tell us that we must all think of ourselves as if we were there among the enslaved who were delivered at the hand of Moses? How much more should we think of ourselves as if we were there at the plains of Moab on that ancient Rosh Hashanah, making a covenant with Moses and Adonai before entering into the Promised Land? Does this not echo what we see in Acts 2:39 when Peter said that the promise of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of the Ruach Ha Kodesh of Almighty Adonai, is "to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” You can't get more "afar off" than being removed from Simon Peter by two thousand years!
People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. (Albert Einstein)
Or, as the Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810 AD) once said (in Meshivat Nefesh, Restore My Soul, translated by Avraham Greenbaum, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 88-89:
In reality there is no such thing as time. Time is only an illusion... Our notions of time are pure illusion. Someone who thinks about this carefully will certainly put all his strength into abandoning the vanities of this time-bound existence and putting all his hope in that which is beyond time. You should have faith in the One who is beyond time. Then nothing in this world can throw you down. Wherever you are, you will always be able to remind yourself, "This day have I given birth to you (Ps. 2:7)." These words refer to Mashiach who is in a realm beyond time. There everything finds healing. Time past is annulled completely... There is only today. Today you were born. Literally! All that is wrong with the world is a part of the "Evil work that is done beneath the sun" in the time-bound world... what remedy is there for all the days and years, all the time that [one] wasted in wrongdoing? His only hope is in the realm beyond time. From there comes all healing. It will be as if he were born again today. So long as you have faith -- in G-d, in the World to Come, and in the Messiah who is beyond time -- you have eternal hope.
I'm getting off topic. (Or am I?) Back to the Sabbath service notes...
Rabbi Meir used to say, 'Great is repentance, because for the sake of a single person who repents, the entire world is forgiven.' (Yoma 86b, Soncino Press Edition)
Rabbi Eliezer said: "Repent one day before your death." His disciples asked him, "Does one know on what day he will die?" "Then all the more reason that he repent today," he replied, "lest he die tomorrow, and thus his whole life is spent in repentance." (Shabbat 153a)
Thus far, we have not only seen Adonai call us to repent of our ways, we have seen Him instruct the children of Israel to repent of their future misdeeds, and we have even seen that he returns (repents) alongside them. Did you know the Messiah -- Yeshua / Jesus, the sinless one -- also repented Himself, even though He had no need to?
Read Matthew 3:13-15:
Then Yeshua (Jesus) came from Galilee to the Jordan to Yochanan (John), to be immersed by him. But Yochanan would have hindered him, saying, "I need to be immersed by you, and you come to me?" But Yeshua, answering, said to him, "Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he (John / Yochanan) allowed him (Yeshua / Jesus).
If you recall in Matthew 3:1, John wasn't just baptizing people for religious ritual purposes, nor was he baptizing new converts, nor cleansing people just for the sport of it: he was calling people to repent of their misdeeds and baptizing them as a sign of their repentance. This is a tradition in Judaism that -- if the Jewish apocryphal work Vita Adae et Evae (or The Life of Adam and Eve) is to be believed -- goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, who (according to that text) "baptized" (stood up to the neck in river water) themselves as part of their penance for their misdeeds at the Garden of Eden.
In other words, Jesus showed up to be baptized into repentance.
Israel repents. Adonai repents with them. We repent. Even Jesus repented, though He had no need to.
Messiah will be the one, on account of his repentance, the whole world will be forgiven. [Emphasis mine.] (Pri Tzaddik, Shlach Lecha 12, The Concealed Light, Dr. Tsvi Sadan, Vine of David, pg. 32)
This happens because the penitent awakens the thoughts of teshuvah (repentance) in the hearts of others. But not everyone has the capacity to be this one person [whose repentance can occasion forgiveness for the entire world]. Such a person has not yet existed, for that unique person will only be the Messiah, son of David. [In order to perform this task] his soul must comprise all other souls... (Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, Zidkat HaZaddik, 159, cited in The Religious Thought of Hasidism, Normal Lamm, pg. 575)
To explain the following quotes: a Tzaddik is a righteous man, or as stated at www.chabad.org : "one who embodies the Creator's primal conception of the human being."
[qupte]The Tzaddik repents on behalf of Israel. Therefore the closer people are to him the easier it is for them to repent and return to G-d. Because the Tzaddik repents for them. (Likutey Etzot, Tzaddik, 105, translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 251-252)[/quote]
The guilt of the Zaddik, on the other hand, may be a guilt of complete fiction, an imaginary guilt... But there are times when the Zaddik must go beyond what is just and in love accept the plight of the people as his own, though no fault of his own is involved. (Rabbi Samuel Dresner, The Zaddik, The doctrine of the Zaddik According to the Writings of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy, Schocken Books, pg. 201)
In John 3:1-10, Jesus is speaking with a leader of the Jewish adherents named Nicodemus -- or Nikdimon ben Gurion possibly, a rabbi mentioned in several ancient Jewish works, such as Taanit 19b-20a, Ketobot 65a-66b, Gittin 56a, Avodah Zarah 25a, Sifre to Deuteronomy 305, Mekhilta Bachodesh 1, Pirkei de-Rebbi Eliezer 2, Lamentations Rabbah 1:16, Kohelet Rabbah 7:11, Avot de-Rabbi Natan 6:3, and possibly Sanhedrin 43a. In this famous discourse, Jesus tells Nicodemus, "unless one is born of water and spirit" -- just as Jesus had been baptized into repentance and "reborn" by John back in Matthew 3 -- "he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. [...] Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born anew'... Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things" (This is the same discourse that later gives us the all-too-famous verse John 3:16.)
"...one who has become a proselyte is like a child newly born." (Yevamot 22a, Soncino Press Edition)
They asked the rabbi of Lublin: "Why is it that in the holy Book of Splendor, the turning to G-d which corresponds to the emanation 'understanding' is called 'Mother'?" He explained: "When a man confesses and repents, when his heart accepts Understanding and is converted to it, he becomes like a new-born child, and his own turning to G-d as his mother." (Tales of the Hasidim, Early Masters, Martin Buber, Schocken Books, pg. 314)
Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new." (II Corinthians 5:17)
Every day, every hour, and every moment, man has the strength to renew and revive himself and to become a totally new creation. G-d makes new creations every day. No one moment is like any other. Strengthen yourself and make a completely new beginning. Even on the very same day, you may have to start again several times. Whatever happened in the past, forget it completely. Keep your thoughts directed to G-d. begin anew as from now... Whatever happens to you, with all your might, make G-d your strength. For G-d is filled with love at every moment. The fountain of His kindness is never exhausted. (Rebbe Noson of Breslov, Restore My Soul, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 40-41)
Rosh Hashanah is coming! It will arrive in two days. Did last year go the way you wanted? If not, don't worry about it! Rosh Hashanah is the time to turn around (to repent, to change your mind) and try something new! It's a new year coming up, so make it a good one!
(And even if last year did go the way you want, there's no reason this next year can't be better!)
Live long and prosper, and may the Force be with you.
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