Wounds: Parashat Ha’azinu/Yom Kippur

Dandelion flying

Parashat Ha’azinu/Yom Kippur
Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52

This year the Torah reading for this first Shabbat of the new year, the Shabbat between Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur, is Ha’azinu. This is not always the case. Sometimes it is the Torah reading preceding this one, Va-yelekh. But the one constant reading is the prophetic portion that gives this Shabbat its name – Shabbat Shuvah – for the first word of the haftarah is “Shuvah – Return!” (Hosea 14:2)

The theme of teshuvah – returning, repenting – is central to this period, the Ten Days of Repentance. Whether the Torah reading is Va-yelekh or Ha’azinu (as it is this year) we can find connections to this essential concern. We are urgently called to return to God and abandon our transgressive ways. What do we wish to receive from God in return? The most obvious answer is “forgiveness.” Indeed, we ask God to forgive us over and over again in the prayers for this season. But another response or result is also presented to us by our Torah reading and haftarah. In addition to forgiveness we seek healing.

In this awful time of pandemic, the promise of healing is especially poignant. In Moses’ words, God declares: “I have wounded and I will heal, for none can save from My Hand.” (Deut. 32:39 – and see a discussion of this verse in Sparks, 5778 – 2017) Of course, we pray for physical healing from disease – r’fu’at ha-guf – healing of the body. But our traditional prayers for healing mention that we also hope for r’fu’at ha-nefesh – healing of the soul. So, God promises, in Hosea’s vision, that “I will heal their waywardness (m’shuvatam); I will benevolently love them, for My anger has turned back (shav) from them.” (Hos. 14:5)

What does God promise to heal? Hosea’s word, “m’shuvatam,” can be variously translated. It could mean “waywardness” and refer to transgressions. God will heal our unreliable, straying spirits that lead us to sinfulness. Or it could mean “affliction.” This would mean that God will heal our pain and suffering, whether physical or psycho-spiritual. Or, the wounds we suffer might not be simply the results of bad consequences of our wrong actions. Our torment might be felt by us while we are in the very midst of a process of teshuvah. And, paradoxically, we seek healing from our own painful healing process.

Or, the word may mean “spiritedness,” as in the verse from Psalm 23, “God will restore my soul (y’shovev).” (Ps. 23:3) This meaning leads us to contemplate the kinds of wounds our spirits may suffer, not from our painful experience of illness, or of regret and repentance, but precisely from our spirited exertions to resist and combat our sufferings. At some point we pray for relief from the wounds we suffer from having to be strong and vigilant all the time.

During these times we are suffering from all these wounds – illness and physical suffering, anguish, death and fear of death; personal, familial and social dislocations and collapse – brought about by our wrong actions and failures to act; and the ongoing challenge to keep being watchful and resilient. Our process of soul-searching repentance is necessarily painful, in itself. This year may we be blessed to experience God’s promise of healing in all the senses we so desperately need.

Shabbat Shalom – G’mar Hatimah Tovah!
Rabbi David Greenstein

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Photo: from Picalls.com used with permission via Creative Commons License Zero.

Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein

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