Flashback 55 years ago, and there I am sitting in my religious school class, beginning my formal Jewish education. The first couple of months were dedicated solely, or so it seemed that way to a 10-year-old, to memorizing the V’ahavta. “You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions, which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Thus will you remember and do all of my commandments, and so be holy before your God. I am Adonai, your God, who led you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am Adonai, your God. “
This prayer resonated with me as I was reading Parashat Ki Tavo.
It is at this point that Moses is preparing the Israelites to enter the land of Canaan. The parashah reaffirms to the people once they enter the land to be thankful and keep the covenant with God. God reminds the Israelites how he’s protected them through wars, how their clothes kept them warm, and provided food and water throughout their journey through the desert. These blessings continue with the instructions of rituals once they enter the land of Canaan. They are to give the first fruits of their production to the temple, demonstrating their gratitude to God for giving them this land and providing a fruitful harvest. It is a time to review the commandments and to rededicate oneself, both as a person and as part of a community. They are also reminded of the past and that they, too, were strangers in this land. For example, in the third year, the year of the tithe, they are to set aside a tenth of their yield to be given to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. Their soil and livestock will be productive. They shall be blessed wherever they go. God is reminding the people to remain faithful to these commandments and live their lives based on these ideals.
On the other hand, if they do not hold God’s commandments in their heart, curses will be brought upon them. These curses are gruesome in nature and eventually result in the destruction of the people if they do not uphold their commitment to God. God has proven his word to the people, and now it’s their turn to prove their promise.
As I enter the High Holy Days, it is a time each year for self-reflection. What are the good deeds I’ve done this year? Have I been a good person to those around me? What lessons have I learned from my mistakes? Whom have I hurt with my words or actions? Have I kept my personal commitments as a Jew to my friends, family, and community? Have I lived “Jewishly” according to God’s commandments?
The best model I can teach my children how to live Jewishly is by my example. I am active in Women of Reform Judaism because of my commitment to leadership development for women, advocating for reproductive rights, and connecting with others who value these beliefs. I wrote postcards during the 2020 election campaign to encourage people to vote as part of our democracy. I provided meals to those who were sick or experiencing loss. I recycled in order to provide materials to be repurposed and not end up in landfills. I’ve made a pledge to financially support those organizations that enable those less fortunate than I to have a better life. I’ve been an active listener to my friends and family when they need to be heard.
During our lives, we experience transitions that include different rituals. This can be your first day of kindergarten and the purchase of new clothes or moving out of your parent’s home and setting up your new apartment. It can be getting married and the signing of the ketubah at your wedding or the birth of a grandchild and having a baby naming. Or, tragically, mourning the death of a spouse or a loved one and saying kaddish for their passing. These rituals may be formal or informal, depicting a transition. These rules and practices in our lives are our way of keeping our commitment to God’s commandments.
Each year we have the benefit of turning over a new leaf and rededicate ourselves to living “Jewishly.” It requires us to look within our mistakes and make things right with others. We need to ask what we can do better and how we can enhance our community. Reflecting on the things that went wrong is an essential element to becoming a better person. We must remind ourselves what it means to be a good person rooted in Jewish beliefs. In the end, if we open ourselves up to improving our lives, we can become our better selves to our friends, family, and community.