In this week’s Torah portion Moses continues to share his thoughts, concerns and commitments with the community in preparation for a time when he will no longer be there to guide them. The portion begins with the promise that so long as the people live by the guidance set down for them in the Torah, they will find life’s blessings waiting to be celebrated. The portion states,
“And if you obey these rules and observe them carefully, your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant made on oath with your fathers.”
A short time later the portion continues this concept, stating,
“You shall faithfully observe all the instructions that I enjoin upon you today, that you may thrive and increase and be able to possess the land that God promised on oath to your fathers.”
The conditional aspect of this portion’s opening doesn’t sit well with me. While I appreciate the idea that there are consequences to our actions, I can’t conceive of a God whose relationship with our community is any more conditional than the love between a parent and a child.And yet, the sad fact is there are times when even that sacred relationship between the generations is conditional.
That is true of every relationship. How many times have each of us been disturbed to find that despite a long, deep relationship, one misstep has caused a profound bond to weaken or, worse yet, break? Too often, we judge one another by our worst moments and forget the months or years of positive, loving connection that preceded them.
Perhaps that is one of the goals of the upcoming High Holy Days for which we start preparing during the month of Elul which begins next week. By setting aside time each year to reflect on the importance of our relationships we are presented with an opportunity to consider those interactions that may have created distance between one another or with God. And we are reminded that those moments, those actions, and those missteps are not the sum-total of our connection. They are merely bumps on the road of life, and by placing them in the larger context of the connection that preceded them, we can regain perspective. From there, we can acknowledge our missteps, seek to make amends and, one hopes, regain the love and commitment that had previously been so important to us.
After all, one misstep doesn’t define us or our relationships. At least it shouldn’t.
Rabbi Daniel M. Cohen