Shabbat Shuvah

Return to Who You Are This Shabbat is called “Shabbat TeShuvah” – The Sabbath of Repentance – because it falls between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, during the Ten Days of Repentance. It is also called “Shabbat Shuvah” – The Sabbath of Return – after the first few words of the special Haftorah for the Sabbath: Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohecha – Return, O, Israel, to the Lord your G-d.  How else might we return? Consider this song, written by Shlomo Carlebach:   

Return again (2X) Return to the Land of your Soul. 
 Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are, born and reborn again.

Alfred de Musset, a 19th century French poet, once wrote, “Each memorable verse of a true poet has two or three times the written content.” So what does Shlomo Carlebach truly mean when he writes we should “return to who we are, what we are, where we are?”  I think we will come close to an answer if we consider this Jewish story about a baby’s birth: In the beginning, before G-d began creation by creating light, G-d created all of the souls that would ever be born and placed them in the highest heaven. There each soul remains, until it is called to enter a body chosen for it.  When a baby is conceived, Layla, the Angel of Night, brings the embryo before G-d, who decrees its fate – will it be a boy or a girl, rich or poor, fat or thin, wise or foolish. G-d decides everything about the child except one thing – will it be righteous or wicked. Then G-d sends the Angel of Souls to the highest heaven to bring back the soul destined for that particular baby. The soul always rebels.  It does not want to be sent down to earth.  But G-d reprimands the rebellious soul, saying, “Hush, it is for this that I created you.” And the soul enters the unborn child’s body and nestles in its mother’s womb. The next morning a second angel carries the soul to Paradise, where it sees the Righteous enjoying eternal Happiness. “This is what is in store for you some day if you follow Torah and live a worthy life,” explains the angel.  But if you do not…… The angel takes the soul to the gates of Gehenna where it sees the suffering of those who devoted their lives to sin and cruelty. Between morning and night the next day, the angel reveals to the unborn soul its future life: where it will live, where it will die and where it will be buried. And then, when it is ready to be born, the angel announces that the time has come for the soul to leave the womb. Once again, the soul rebels. “No,” it says, “that will be too much for me.” But the angel quiets the soul. “This is as G-d decrees.  It is not up to us to be born, and it is not up to us to die. Such is your fate.” With that, the angel touches the about -to -be -born baby under the nose, leaving a small indentation there. Instantly, the soul forgets everything it has learned from the angels. Then the baby emerges into the world, crying and afraid. Each soul spends the rest of its time on earth recovering all that it once knew. [1] To me this story means that each person is put on this earth for a particular and unique purpose.  Our task on earth is to discover that mission, to uncover our inborn talents and how to make the best use of them in our world.  This is a time of cheshbon hanefesh, introspection and holding ourselves to account. Are we growing into the kind of person we were meant to be?  Are we doing what G-d wants us to be doing on this earth? Or have we strayed from our soul’s work?  If so, this is the time to make a course correction – to return to who we are.  

[1] Frankel, Ellen The Classic Tales: 4000 Years of Jewish Lore Jason Aronson, 1993 pp17-19