Parsha of the week

Vayelech (and he went)

Deuteronomy 31:1-30

* These are the events of Moses' last day of earthly life. "I am one hundred and twenty years old today," he says to the people, "and I can no longer go forth and come in."

* He transfers the leadership to Joshua, and writes (or concludes writing) the Torah in a scroll which he entrusts to the Levites for safekeeping in the Ark of the Covenant.

* The mitzvah of hak'hel ("gather") is given: every seven years, during the festival of Sukkot of the first year of the shemittah cycle, the entire people of Israel-men, women and children-should gather at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where the king should read to them from the Torah.

* Vayelech concludes with the prediction that the people of Israel will turn away from their covenant with God, causing God to hide God's face from them, but also with the promise that the words of the Torah "shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their descendants."

Parasha Vayelech, the shortest portion in the Torah, falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and is called Shabbat Shuvah, or the Sabbath of return. Teshuvah, or repentance, is a core concept of the High Holidays. But the word literally means "return." Services on Shabbat Shuvah are typically solemn and focused. There is still much work to do as the Jewish people move towards forgiveness on Yom Kippur, which falls just a few days after Shabbat Shuva.

Additional Limud (Learning)

Beating our Breasts on Yom Kippur

The interpretation that I have always heard about the practice of beating our breasts during the Vidui, or community confession during the Yom Kippur services, is that we are making ourselves uncomfortable for our "sins" or shortcomings as a community. The ground-breaking television show, "Transparent" has a scene in the first season, where Rachel, the rabbi dating the son of Maura Pfferman, the family patriarch turned matriarch, is leading her congregation and in complete unison, the congregation beats their breasts loudly, and it causes a sound that is very jarring. But, my colleague, Rachel Barenblat, known as the Velveteen Rabbi, has a different interpretation: rather than castigating ourselves, we're knocking gently on the heart, asking it to open. I hope to explore this more during these Days of Awe.

If my words or actions have caused anyone hurt or pain in any way in our last year together, I humbly ask for your forgiveness.

Rabbi Robbi Sherwin

Rabbi Robbi Sherwin