It’s Shabbat Shuvah — the Shabbat of Return. The Shabbat of turning and returning, in this season of turning and returning. “Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul.” What kind of return does your soul yearn for?
My soul yearns to return to comfort. My soul yearns to return to hope.
My soul yearns to return to a world where I don’t have to brace myself every time I open up the paper, afraid to see today’s new abuse of power or harm to the vulnerable or damage to the environment.
For that matter, my soul yearns to return to a world where my mom is alive and healthy.
I can’t call Mom on the phone this afternoon and tell her about my morning and ask her about hers. Well: I can, after a fashion. And I do. But it’s not the same as having her here in life. Some of the return that we yearn for just isn’t possible.
And some of it is. Right now I dread reading the paper because I’m afraid to see what new harm has been unloosed upon the world since last time I looked, but there’s a fix for that: change the world.
Change the world into one where those in power will uphold human rights and protect the vulnerable and take care of our irreplaceable planet. Change the world into a world without mass shootings, a world without discrimination or bigotry, a world where every human being is safe and uplifted.
One of our tradition’s names for that world is Eden. The Garden in which, Torah says, God placed the first human beings. At the beginning of our human story, says Torah, we inhabited Eden. And in our work to repair the broken world, we seek the kind of teshuvah that would enable humanity to return to that state of safety and sweetness.
The Hebrew word Eden seems to mean something like “pleasure.” In the book of Genesis, when Sarah learns that she will become pregnant in her old age and in Abraham’s old age, she laughs to herself: “will I really know pleasure again, with Avraham being so old?” And her word for pleasure is עדנה / ednah –– Eden.
When someone dies, we say “may the Garden of Eden be their resting place.” We imagine that the souls of those who have died inhabit that Garden now: a place of sweetness and comfort, where all needs are met.
Shabbat is sometimes called “a foretaste of the World to Come,” or “a return to the Garden of Eden.” When we take pleasure in Shabbat, we glimpse the original state of pleasure into which Torah says humanity was created.
Every Shabbes is an invitation to return. Return to our roots, return to our spiritual practices, return to rest and to pleasure, return to Eden… so that when the new week begins, we can be energized in the work of repairing the world.
And this is The Shabbat Of Return. It’s labeled in giant glowing golden letters: This Is The Door Of Return! Walk This Way! God is waiting for us to come home. Our souls are waiting for us to come home.
In just a few short days, we need to be ready for Yom Kippur to do its work on us and in us.
Tradition teaches that during those 25 precious hours, God is closer to us — more accessible to us, more reachable by us — than at any other time. On that day we can pour out our hearts and feel heard, feel seen, feel known. And if we’re willing to take the risk of going into that day with all that we are, we can come out of it transformed.
What kind of return does your soul yearn for? To what do you need to return, this Shabbes, in order to prepare yourself to crack open and to change, to return, so that you can emerge from the work of Yom Kippur feeling reborn?
This is the d’varling Rabbi Rachel wrote for Shabbat Shuvah. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)