Thoughts on Vayelech and Shabbat Shuvah

We are in the midst of the Days of Awe, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when introspection is the order of the day and each of us is attempting to ensure that all is right between ourselves and Hashem and even more importantly between ourselves and others. Consider these two passages from the Apostolic Writings as we contemplate our relationships and our desire to ensure rightness, both vertically and horizontally. 

First this admonition from Yeshua,

Therefore, if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Matthew 5:23-24, TLV

It would appear that the validity of our gifts to Hashem are contingent upon our relation to our brothers and sisters. 

The second admonition, in my opinion, is even stronger and is one that we often read over due to its familiarity. This admonistion is part of Yeshua’s instructions to his talmidim regarding the proper attitude and way to pray.

Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us.

Matthew 6:12, CJB

This is immediately followed by an even stronger statement by Yeshua,

For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

Matthew 6:14-15; cf. Mark 11:25-26, TLV

I realize that I am sounding redundant, but it is necessary to walk in a state of mutual forgiveness with our brothers and sisters, horizontally as it were, if we want to walk in the forgiveness of our heavenly Father. 

But what about vertically, can we, as sinful, flawed individuals hope to be in a right relationship with our God? A cornerstone passage in the Selichot prayers, prayers for divine forgiveness, that is offered up during the Days of Awe is found in the book of Exodus. Multiple times in our prayers we affirm these thirteen attributes of Hashem. 

ADONAI, ADONAI, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7)

Exodus 34:6-7

King David reworks these attributes, personalizing them due to his many experiences with both Hashem’s discipline in his life for his shortcomings as well as Hashem’s restorative actions according to His abundant forgiveness and grace.

ADONAI is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and plentiful in mercy. He will not always accuse, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not treated us according to our sins or repaid us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His mercy for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:8-12

This Shabbat, Shabbat Shuvah, is one of the special Shabbatot of the year. Shabbat Shuvah is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and draws its name from the beginning of the special haftarah reading for this Shabbat.

Shuvah Yisrael, Return O Israel, to ADONAI your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.

Hosea 14:2

There is no question, that we, like Israel and King David, have struggled with life and fallen short of the righteous standard that Hashem requires of us. But we need to recall the words of the prophet Micah from the second haftarah reading for Shabbat Shuvah,

Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will extend truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, that You swore to our ancestors from the days of old.

Micah 7:18-20

Throughout the Selichot prayers and the prayers for both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we acknowledge our faults, our disobedience to the laws of Hashem, our continual missing of the mark. Along with this acknowledgement, is the recognition that it is only God’s grace and mercy that will restore us, and not any actions or good deeds of our own. Each of us is totally and solely dependent upon the pardoning grace of God as we return to Him in t’shuvah (repentance). It is His desire for us to be restored to fellowship with Him. 

As followers of Yeshua, we recognize that the finished work of Yeshua’s sacrifice—his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension— is the application of Hashem’s restorative grace in our lives. For all those who are not yet followers of Yeshua, it is our hope and prayer that eyes will be opened, ears will be unstopped and hearts softened during these Days of Awe and that the reality of Messiah’s love and his gift of grace will be received by all who seek the LORD and who cry out like David,

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your mercy. According to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. … Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence—take not Your Ruach haKodesh from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:3-4; 12-14

The Torah reading for Vayelech is Deuteronomy 31:1-30. The special haftarah reading Is Hosea 14:2-10 and Micah 7:18-20. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is Matthew 18:21–35.

This entry was posted in Chaggim, Mo'ed, Shabbat, Weekly Parasha. Bookmark the permalink.

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