“29.13. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone,
29.14. but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day.”.
While reading them, those verses echoed strongly in me. Indeed, a few hours before reading them, I was just offered a pen with a little quote written on it. The quote was from the Little Prince:
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
The parallel with the Torah verses came at once. In the parasha, God’s ultimate wisdom specifies that the covenant was made with those who were there, and “Those who are not with us here this day”. We can suppose that for God, those ‘who were not with us here this day’, -therefore who were invisible to the eye – were the essential part of the deal.
Implicitly, we, us, modern Jews, were what was at stake between God and our ancestors. God needed to make sure that the ones he was allying with would transmit the Torah. And indeed, God had no interest in giving the Torah to a single generation of people.
First of all, Torah is too deep for one generation to understand it. We have studied it for 2000 years and we are still trying to figure it out!
Second, as the Midrash teaches, Torah is a long-term project for human beings to live by it and not self-destruct.
Therefore, we, those invisible to the eye at the time, were the essential part of the covenant.
But today, we are not invisible to the eye anymore. And this is where the Little Prince quote is filled with wisdom. Because it reminds us… “What is essential is what is invisible to the eye” and today, what is invisible to the eye is the choice our ancestors made for us.
We should never forget that what our ancestors did, for us. We are the heirs of their bad decisions (that we remember very often and don’t hesitate blaming on them), but we also are the heirs of their good decisions (and that, we don’t remember often). And the lesson it teaches us is that we should always remember to thank our ancestors -one way or another – regardless.
When they did right, we must thank them because we get the benefits from their actions; As for what they did wrong, well, this is tricky … but I think We must also thank them because we have the chance to be alive. Even more important as Jews we believe in free will, therefore, by our acts and deeds, we have the opportunity to not repeat the same mistakes, and thus make things better, so even if one stream of our existentialist modern societies make us think “I did not ask to be born”… we can embrace a more mystical point of view and acknowledge that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Embrace the ideology that from the Big Bang to the day we were born we must consider that the world we live in was made for us. And if our ancestors did wrong, it is in our power, and it is our duty to change things as much as we can, because new generations are coming, and they deserve it, and they really matter.
This weekend we have the chance to do this with Rosh Hashanah. We might think, “this is our New Year, let’s open the champagne”… But we know that this New Year is different from its secular sister. Our New Year is more focused on a far more serious part of the New Year.
Sunday evening marks the start of the climax of our spiritual year with the Yamim Noraim. The period of 10 Days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
We might wish we could take Rosh Hashanah lightly. It’s the beginning of September and we already have so many other things to deal with: going back to school, to work, getting things ready, with the days getting shorter and cooler. The month of September is always a balagan with so many things to focus on. And this is where we are probably mistaken. All too often, we focus on what is happening here and now, Yet always, we should be focused on what is essential, and that is, what is invisible to the eye: the long term. And this is what the Yamim Noraim are about.
Those 10 days are NOT to be taken lightly because they are a chance we don’t get twice during the year. The Jewish Lifecycle allows us -with a group dynamic and a fast organized on its very last day- to take the time to think; think deeply about what is going on in our lives.
And if we look at the definition of the words Yamim Noraim, we realize we are not supposed just to “think”. Yamim means Days, and Noraim means “Awe”.
I was taught that if I really want to get as deep as I can, I should not do it in a state of fear but of love. If I am rigorous, but light at heart, I will more profoundly enter into what the Tishri observances are about. The process is Teshuva, going back, going back in the past, to those places where I did not act righteously. And to enable this effort of going back, I need to approach it with an optimistic heart.
Yes, September is a heavy time, but we have 10 days to stand in Awe.
Dear friends, forget about the stress, to make things alright, you just need to stand in Awe ! One good example of standing in awe is that of the Little Prince.
Through his innocent eyes, he looks at the world and tries to understand it. And this is what we must do. Look at our relationships with our families, friends, colleagues, communities, and fellow citizens.
We must look at those relationships with an innocent but honest eye and be truthful about what went right, and what went wrong. And then, we must say sorry to the ones we have hurt, and we should always do it filled with tenderness. Doing so, we achieve true Teshuvah.
I wish a true, sincere, meaningful and tender Shana Tova to all of you.
Etienne Kerber LBC rabbinic student
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.