Parsha Vayalech: Days of Awe

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This week’s parsha, Vayalech (“and he went”), is read on Shabbat Shuva– the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in the middle of the “Days of Awe.” This timing is supposed to feel liminal. We’re poised between the birthday of the world and the day of death’s dress rehearsal. On Rosh Hashanah, we listen and wake ourselves up with the blowing of the shofar. We pray, we celebrate, we eat apples and honey and wish everyone a sweet new year. On Yom Kippur we fast, we wear white, we act like angels. We also are hungry and thirsty and tired and cranky and are reminded that we’re human. During these Days of Awe, we’re told that the gates to heaven are open. We are supposed to pray our hearts out, correct any wrongdoings, ask for and offer our forgiveness, and seal ourselves into the Book of Life. In all of that, in this process of teshuvah or returning to our best selves, to G-d, to each other, it’s easy to become very aware of the preciousness of our days.

I like the term “Days of Awe.” During this time, I seek out the awe that I typically overlook. That perfect stream of light in the clouds, the incredibly gracious and kind train conductor, the intense apple-ness of the apple, how amazing it is to have a body, gratitude for love, and gratitude for having a life to experience it all.

This week’s parsha, Vayalech, is the story of Moses’ last day on earth, the day of his death and of his 120th birthday. According to the Torah, on Moses’ last day, he writes the entire five books of Moses. He also prepares Joshua to be courageous and take over. He pleads for his life and then finally accepts his fate. He encourages his people, offers warnings from G-d, teaches a new tradition to read from the Torah he wrote every seven years on Sukkot, and more. This is a lot.

It feels appropriate at this particular moment in our calendar to consider this kind of day. What would you do if you knew it was your last day on earth? What if that day was today? This is the kind of questioning that many are contemplating in preparation for Yom Kippur. What if all of the teshuvah, tzedakah (charity and creating a just world), and tefillah (prayer) that we’re told can reverse the fate of our death this year doesn’t work? What do we need to do to feel like we’ve lived a full life? What’s stopping us from just going ahead and doing it?

My kavanah, intention, for meditation practice this week is to sit quietly, feel our body and our breath, consider what’s happening in this particular moment, in these days of awe, and to ask “if tomorrow was my last day on earth, what would I do today?”

To a good year, to a year of peace, and in the words of a friend, “May we all remember (& remind each other) that we are too blessed to be stressed.” L’Shana Tova.