On Rosh Hashana we, as individuals and a people, stand before Hashem and beg for forgiveness for the sins we committed over the past year. Through countless prayers we lament over our possible fates and beg Hashem to be inscribed in the Book of Life. Though we do not always deserve it, it appears that Hashem grants pardons year after year and inscribes us in the Book of Life. We then set goals for the next year and may choose to try to improve one aspect of our character or religious practice. In the following Aseret Yemei Teshuva, through Yom Kippur we continue to pray to Hashem to judge us favorably. Through this time, most people are more conscious of their behavior, for example, less Tefilah is missed and less Lashon Hara spoken. As time goes on, however, many lose sight of their earlier resolutions and begin to miss davening and become more callous in their behavior toward others. Often times, people return completely to their old patterns of behavior. After the cycle of another year, Elul returns and we begin once again to pray to Hashem to forgive us. And so it goes on.
This week's Parsha tells of a similar cycle - one not based on years, but on centuries and millennia. The Parsha opens with all of Bnai Yisrael standing before Hashem ready to enter Eretz Yisrael, Hashem then renewed the covenant with them. Why did Bnai Yisrael require a new covenant with Hashem? Wasn't the old one from Har Sinai still valid? Was it out of date? The Baal HaTanya answers with a parable: when friends make a covenant it isn't for the present, but for a future time when they might not feel close or when geographical distance keeps them separated. The covenant is to insure that even if they aren't close, the relationship will continue. Right before entering Eretz Yisrael, Bnai Yisrael were very close to Hashem. Later, the covenant served to keep Bnai Yisrael close to Hashem as the people met the challenges of settling the land. Today, although there may not be any prophecies we still have the covenant, the Torah, to keep us connected.
The Parsha continues and warns against idolatry, the reason the covenant was necessary in the first place. Hashem wanted to ensure that the Jews would continue to keep the Torah and serve him as God even without the same close contact they enjoyed in the desert. The Parsha then relates that later generations would stray from Hashem and worship other gods. When this happened, plagues and enemies besieged Eretz Yisrael until the people realized what they did and asked Hashem for forgiveness. They repented and began to act in ways suitable for Jews. Soon after, Hashem forgave and the Jews lived lives of Torah and Mitzvot - that is, until the next time they forget to follow Hashem.
The pattern is clear; it is easily identified. The lesson told in this week's Parsha is eternally true. We sin and repent and so on, and so forth. This year we should all be more aware of this unfortunate pattern and avoid falling into this nasty rut. So during the Yamim Noraim, make your resolution to be a better Jew and better person in at least one way. Progress comes one step at a time. Don't let your progress fall by the wayside after the holidays have passed. Perhaps next year we will be asking for forgiveness from a new and more spiritually elevated vantage point.