A Water from the Well blog post, Shabbat Shuva
Written by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
This year we have a profound confluence of calendar events. This Shabbat, known as Shabbat Shuva, falls on September 11. Shabbat Shuva is the Sabbath dedicated to the theme of repentance, as it comes between the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Shuva means “to return.”
The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is referred to as aseret y’mei hateshuvah-the ten days of repentance. Maimonides teaches that this time period is especially conducive for making real changes. In his legal code, The Mishna Torah, in a section devoted to the laws of repentance, he writes: Even though teshuva and crying out are desirable all year, on the ten days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, they are more desirable, and are immediately received.
On Rosh Hashanah we are meant to open the book of our lives, re-read the stories of the past year, identify the errors, the interpersonal mistakes we have made, and over the ensuing ten days, make course corrections. Our tradition creates the space for us to review, re-boot and restore. Three paths are laid out for us: Teshuvah– repentance, Tefilah– prayer and Tzedakah-charity.
This Shabbat, that is, this Shabbat Shuva, marks the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001, a horrific day of incalculable pain and shock for our nation and for every individual who lived through it. I am sure you can all remember exactly where you were when you discovered the horror that was unfolding on that beautiful September morning. For all the souls that were lost that day, we pray for their peace. And for all the families that still grieve for their loved ones, we pray for their comfort.
What seems to me to bind together Shabbat Shuva with September 11 is the Jewish concept that we can support and elevate the souls of the departed through acts of lovingkindness. While we cannot rewrite the past, we can alter the future by bringing more kindness into the world. As we do so, in the names of those who were taken from this world, we lift up their lives, not as victims of hatred, but as vehicles of love.
In this vein there are two organizations whose missions I want to share with you.
9/11 Day is working to make September 11 a national day of community service. Their mission is as follows: to transform the annual remembrance of 9/11 into a worldwide day of unity and doing good, and to encourage millions of people to remember and pay tribute each 9/11 through good deeds that help others and rekindle the extraordinary spirit of togetherness and compassion that arose in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy.
Another organization, Pay it Forward 911 is calling on all of us to perform 20,000 good deeds in honor of this 20th anniversary. At their website they ask the following: Perform 3 random acts of kindness for strangers every September 11th to honor the lives lost in the 9/11 attacks.
The beauty of these projects lies in the fact that they do not ask us to be heroic. They simply ask us to commit to performing acts of kindness. This is well within our means.
Each group seeks to tap into and magnify the very best of humanity. This is the kind of teshuvah our world is needing today. May September 11, Shabbat Shuva, be a time for true return to our most cherished values and our highest calling – to be instruments of love.