Torah portion offers a way back from adversity

Hazzan Sharon Nathanson

By Cantor Sharon Nathanson

“ . . . . and God will gather you in from all the peoples to which Hashem, your God, has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the Earth, your God will gather you in . . .”  — Deut. 30:3-4

 Even if we are at the ends of the Earth. Even if we have lost touch with our community or friends or family. Even if we have temporarily lost touch with ourselves and lost our way, we can make our way back. It is a powerful statement of hope that we read every year just before Rosh Hashanah. 

Perhaps in some cases, we, ourselves, are responsible for feeling cut off from whom we need to be or cut off from community. We have focused on a slight. Or a disappointment. Or we are angry at a concept of God that doesn’t fulfill our expectations of what we think God should be. But even if our faith in humanity, in ourselves, or in God has seemingly vanished to the ends of the Earth, this passage reminds us that there is always a way back. 

The way back may feel much more complicated and difficult than God simply gathering us in. (That does sound so comforting in its simplicity.) But our tradition reminds us that we are partners with God; that we don’t simply pray to God to make something happen. We pray that God inspires within us the resolve, the strength and the wisdom to return to the path we need to take.

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However, this passage of Torah also reminds us that sometimes a person has been cast out, or made to feel forgotten and left at the end of the Earth, by no fault of their own. This happens all too often and we have all seen it happen. Mobility issues, illness, frailty and difficult family situations, can be physically and emotionally devastating for the individual and for the family. 

So I make a plea to those who feel the community has cut them off that they not give up hope; that they reach out and know that God has not forgotten them. And I make a plea to the entire community that we remember we are each made B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, meaning we are to follow the example of being open and ready to make the effort to go out and gather our people in.

And who is part of this community? It can feel sometimes that others are on the inside and we are on the outside, not part of the community. But the opening of this section of Torah makes it abundantly clear who is included. It begins, “You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your God . . .“ And the text goes on to make clear that every Jewish person is included in the covenant of Torah with God: People of all social stations, all professions, those born into Jewish families and those who chose to become a part of the Jewish people, men, women and children. 

As we make the final preparations toward the Days of Awe, I pray that we allow the messages of hope and inclusivity found in our Torah to guide us into a year of goodness and sweetness for each individual, for the entirety of the Jewish people and for all humanity.

Cantor Sharon Nathanson serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, which coordinates the weekly d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.