‘Embrace the Space!’

By Rabbi Ari Shachar

The “Days of Awe,” between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, constitute a liminal space – an  “in-between” place where the possibility of transformation lies.  

The Sabbath that falls during these 10 Days of Repentance is called  Shabbat Shuvah, or the Sabbath of Return, from the Haftorah, Hosea 14:2-10, in which the prophet implores the people to return to God from sin, and they will be taken back into God’s grace with generous love.  

The Torah portion this Shabbat (Deut. 32:1-52) also begins with an exhortation, “Ha’azinu/ Listen!” from Moses to the Israelites, who are poised to enter the Promised Land.  Moses knows his wish to cross the Jordan River and see the land himself is not to be; instead, he will soon die with only a glimpse of the land his people will enter without him.   

He reminds the people that God  took them from bondage in Egypt to freedom, provided for their needs and protected them as an eagle protects its nestlings; yet they repeatedly turned away from God toward false gods.  

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Moses harshly calls them “Children unworthy of God” and a “crooked, perverse generation” who are “dull and witless.”  Is this disappointment and bitterness speaking? Or is Moses trying one last time to motivate them by holding up a mirror, hoping they will see their error, have remorse and commit themselves to return to God as they journey into the Promised Land?

Looking into a mirror can be difficult when we are troubled by what we see. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will surely feel regret for some of our behavior in the past year.  Perhaps we uttered words we wish we could take back, or recall deeds we would like undone.  Aspects of our lives may be in dire need of transformation.  As we approach Yom Kippur, we know we are being asked to look into the mirror of our souls, to confront what we see!

The beauty of liminal space is that it is an incubator for transformation.  As we look within for that which no longer serves us or those we love, we are also given hope for renewal in the year to come.  Honesty and compassion – for ourselves and others – illuminate our path of return to our truest self and to the Divine. 

This is the gift of the Days of Awe: sacred space and time for deep reflection that leads to real change.  As we come together in community to confess our common human failings, we are held in a loving and forgiving space, invited to return to an honest and godly path.  We can experience genuine regret, let go of the past and commit ourselve to doing better.   

This year, embrace the chance to boldly look within, feel regret, forgive yourself and others, and chart a new journey. Ha’azinu! Awaken to this sacred gift of liminal space and use it for transformation. 

Shanah tovah!