Return and Be Found: Thoughts on Shabbat Shuva

As we journey from the Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur we stop along the way at Shabbat Shuva. During these Ten Days of Awe we are asked to contemplate Teshuva. On this special Shabbat we might even have some time to contemplate what would it take for us to return. What is special about this time of year. What is special about Shabbat during this time of Teshuva? We learn in the Talmud:

As it is taught in a baraita: All are judged on Rosh HaShana, and their sentence is sealed on Yom Kippur; this is the statement of Rabbi Meir. (Rosh HaShana 16a)

It was reported about the same Rabbi Meir about his teacher Aḥer, Elisha Ben Abuya ,who was an apostate. There we learn:

The Sages taught: There was once an incident involving Aḥer, who was riding on a horse on Shabbat, and Rabbi Meir was walking behind him to learn Torah from him. After a while, Aḥer said to him: Meir, turn back, for I have already estimated and measured according to the steps of my horse that the Shabbat boundary ends here,and you may therefore venture no further. Rabbi Meir said to him: You, too, return to the correct path. He said to him: But have I not already told you that I have already heard behind the dividing curtain: “Return, rebellious children,” apart from Aḥer? ( Chagigah 15a )

It is possible that the exception of Aḥer not being able to return is there to prove the rule that the rest of us are actually invited to return. It is also possible that the Shabbat in reference in the Gemara in Chagigah was Shabbat Shuva. It is possible that for Rabbi Meir on this Shabbat between  Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, even Aḥer’s sentence was not sealed.

As we read in this Haftarah from this week:

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God; for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take with you words, and return to the Lord; say to God: ‘Forgive all iniquity, and accept that which is good; so will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we call any more the work of our hands our gods; for in You the fatherless finds mercy.'( Hosea 14:2-4)

In this holy period of the Ten Days God and humanity are both asked to be vulnerable and accessible. On Shabbat we achieve deeper level of having time to actually be available. This is a special Shabbat during which we are all invited back.

This reminds me of one of my favorite Hassidic stories.  The story goes that a Rebbe is walking and sees a little boy standing by a wall crying. The Rebbe asks the boy why he is crying. The boy replies that he was playing Hide and Seek with his friends and he thinks that his friends forgot about him. At this point the Rebbe starts crying and the boys asks him why the Rebbe is crying. The Rebbe responds, ” Now I understand how God feels “.

Image result for hide and seek

It seems for that on Shabbat Shuva we are invited to end the game of Hide and Seek. Humanity and God allow each other to return and be found.

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