This week is Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Return. The name comes from the Haftarah when we read Hosea, It deals with themes of repentance and forgiveness. In earlier times the Rabbi would only be required to give a sermon on this Shabbat and on Shabbat Hagadol before Pesach.
After 40 years of wandering in the desert Moses now sums up his message in a poem designed to be memorised and recited regularly so that it would be transmitted from generation to generation. The Sedra opens with the words:
Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!
Poetry is being downgraded in general education, but most of us will probably remember memorising poems in school. The lines we memorised as children or teenagers became fixed in us permanently. Moses wants us to remember.
The Parasha is also described as the Song of Moses. In the previous Parasha we hear God saying:
Write this song for you and teach thou it to the Children of Israel
Songs are also a powerful way of remembering. We all carry with us songs that recall something special and meaningful.
After the poem concludes, Moses explains his and God's motivation, saying:
Take to heart all the words with which I have warned you this day; for this is not a trifling thing for you: it is your very life.
The final part of the Sedra is where God makes it plain to Moses that he will not enter the Land. He is told:
For from afar, you will see the land, but you will not come there, to the land I am giving the children of Israel.
It is a reminder of our own mortality. Just like Moses we leave behind us our deeds and our teachings but the future is in the hands of our children.
The New Year has begun, and Yom Kippur is just ahead. We have asked for forgiveness and now we ask pardon for the sins we have acknowledged.
As we read this, the penultimate Sedra of the Torah, the Book of the Law is our guide. We also have a chance to read the Book of our Lives that we and our children have the opportunity to write in the days ahead.