Shabbat Shuvah Message from Rabbi James Baaden
Return! That’s the message of Shabbat Shuvah, often translated as “The Sabbath of Return”. It’s actually named after the Haftarah this week, which begins with a call to the whole community of Israel summoning them to return. And sometimes it’s called “Shabbat Teshuvah” – as Teshuvah, repentance, the main theme of this season, is indeed very closely related in Hebrew to the idea of returning, going back, turning around.
Quite a few years ago, I remember, I spoke at Rosh ha Shanah about the story of Dick Whittington, not just three times but in fact four times Lord Mayor of London in the Middle Ages. According to legend, when he was a dejected young man, feeling himself to be a failure here in London, he set out for home (Gloucestershire)- with his cat. Trudging up Highgate Hill, he heard the bells of London calling to him to turn around and go back – to London, and future mayoral glories.
Of course, he was already returning, or trying to return – to his childhood home in western England. That was halted. He stopped – and stayed here. Return is truly relative. At all sorts of moments we are both returning and going forward. When we return we are also advancing: in time, in life. Yes, we may be going back to something, someone, somewhere. But … time has passed. It will be different. They will be different. We will be different. Changed. And the process of return itself will change us.
We cannot turn the clock back to the time “before Coronavirus”. Some dimensions of that era are gone forever. And we ourselves are changed, different. What are we called to return to at this season? What sort of world do we seek, do we need, to return to in our current context in September 2020? The answers lie within us – as we identify and honour where we came from, all that was good in the past, everything and everyone that we have loved and valued and learnt from – and go forward.
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah