Pre-Game Chatter: What kinds of things are much better the second time around? And what kinds of things are only worthwhile doing once?
As Moses winds down his farewell address to the Israelites, he predicts the people will turn away from God, only to return:
The Pitch: “You, however, will again heed the LORD and obey all His commandments that I enjoin upon you this day.” – Deuteronomy 30:8
Swing #1: “Only after the first steps of teshuvah does [one] begin to fathom the enormity of the damage [caused by] his sin: how he sinned, against whom, and so forth and so on. And in this way one ascends from level to level. And on each level one increases in teshuvah. For this reason, it is said earlier, ‘And you turn to the Lord, your God …’ (Deuteronomy 30:2), but later on, once one has made a beginning, and drawn oneself near to God, does the person come to the second rung, ‘And you will turn …’ (Deuteronomy 30:8). Each time more. Without interruption. Ascending from one level to another level. Through the heights of return, teshuvah.” – Joshua Sheinfeld
Swing #2: “The situation of Israel is very different [here] when compared with that in the earlier parts of Deuteronomy; behind the speaker there lies the period of disobedience and of judgment. The curses in Deuteronomy, which is here understood predominantly as law, have been fulfilled. From this standpoint the speaker looks to the future and announces a redemptive activity by which God himself creates for his people the prerequisites for complete obedience.” – Gerhard von Rad, Deuteronomy
Swing #3: “Not from the root ‘to return’, but from the root ‘to dwell’, i.e. you will sit at ease, undisturbed.” – Sforno
Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to believe that Israel’s return to following God’s commandments will be more satisfying after ignoring them? Is it better to learn from our mistakes or to never make the mistakes in the first place? How might the answer to that question help us as we approach the High Holidays, when we face up to our missteps and dedicate ourselves to improvement?
On-Deck at Emanu-El: Our services on the second day of Rosh Hashanah will feature several differences from those of previous years. We will have a sermon from Shai Bibas, Charleston’s new shaliach (Israel emissary); the Torah reading will be introduced by a skit; the Haftarah will be introduced by a story told to children sitting on the bimah; and some prayers will be streamlined in order to make time for the other changes. Even if you don’t typically go to services on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, consider joining us this year on Tuesday, September 11th.
The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of satisfying returns, in the 1970s, Robin Yount was a ballyhooed prospect for the Milwaukee Brewers, but he struggled in his initial year with the team. He responded by staying away from baseball entirely for a few months, communing with nature and trying new things. It paid off; Yount later won two Most Valuable Player awards and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Shabbat Shalom, and very soon, L’shanah Tovah!