All sorts of things have become almost useless these days. That’s why it’s so surprising to chance upon an “end of season” shoe sale. Shoes? Who wears shoes anymore? But I walk in anyway. Short of getting groceries, I don’t think I have been in a store for months. I enter almost tiptoeing as if going into a shire from the past. Everything seems beautiful. “These look lovely”, says the sale’s lady when I eye a pair of indeed, lovely heels, “and very comfortable, you know, for when you…” her words trail off… for when I… what? Zoom? Get on facebook live?? Watch Netflix? It’s been more than 180 days; my clothes are wilting in the closet. And I really don’t need shoes. But, yes, I take a pair of sandals. Just to feel a hint of whatever “normal” means again.
… Wait, wait, you mean normal is shopping??? That’s exactly why we have Covid! To get over our consumption-driven-society!! To focus inward; to …. Yes, I know, but please… I am one of the chief trumpeters of the “everything is for the best”; “let’s find the good in this”… but if anything, Covid taught me is to actually not jump of the ‘look how wonderful closure and social isolation are’ and ‘how great it is to spend time alone’. I get all that, really. And I believe and support and it’s great. But it has no meaning, in my eyes, without a tad, at least, if not more, of sadness; of pain; of feeling the immense loss we are experiencing, daily.
And I believe this is what this season is about: Elul. And Teshuva. And contemplating our actions, past and present and future, it is all so important. And it needs to come with a bit of humility; a great joy for whatever there is, which is indeed, great, and at the same time, not without a moment of, ouch. It’s been a while and it’s not going anywhere. It’s great to be positive and full of faith; it’s also, at times, exhausting. And it needs to be ok to not be ok, if only to be deeply appreciative of everything we did have until not long ago. Only by holding both, we can be, well, human.
Most maps I’ve looked at recently have been of CA / US West Coast fires and / or Covid in Israel and the world. But today, I got a new, beautiful, exciting, inspiring map. Portal Hadad Hayomi, a website dedicate to daf yomi learning, has asked its learners if they’d like daf-yomi bookmarks, a stickers and some info. From all the responses so far, they assembled a map of learners, a phenomena never-ever seen before in Jewish history. There’s really no words. Just take a look.
The Torah portion of Nitzavim reminds me of a saying in Tractate Brachot 34:b:
במקום שבעלי תשובה עומדים, צדיקים גמורים אינם עומדים
In the place where ba’alei teshuva (those who repent) stand, even the wholly righteous don’t stand.
What does it mean? As is often the case, it could mean a thing and its opposite: option one is to see it as a picture where between each person and G-d, there’s a cord. The “ba’al teshuva”, in order to be at a point of repentance, had to have transgressed, or in a way, cut that cord. The repentance is reconnecting the cord. As we know, a reconnected cord is shorter than a straight one. It also implies a knot along the way, a spot of making that reconnection. In that sense, the “ba’alei teshuva” are actually close than the wholly righteous, who just go about their business being righteous and connected.
Alternatively, we need to know that in order to do “teshuva” (repentance is really not great translation… sort of a “come-back”), we do not need to sin. Just by being human, there’s a painful distance between us and the Divine. The ba’al teshuva “stands” – he perceives it as a list of mitzvot he missed and needs to “fix” maybe keep Shabbat better, maybe give more tzedakah. The idea that getting closer to G-d depends on mitzvot actually stalls him. What makes a righteous person, righteous, in this explanation, is that they never stop in their journey.
Nitzavim ironically, describing the process of teshuva, literally means standing, almost in attention. And which was is it? You already know.