This Shabbat, we find ourselves in the midst of the 10 days of repentance. Our sages teach that during the High Holy Days, we should focus our energy on cheshbon hanefesh — the accounting of our souls. This process of teshuvah, of repentance, can’t be done alone. Only in relationship can we ask forgiveness and return to our best and highest selves. There is no better illustration of this thought than through the Chasidic story told by Rebbe Hayyim of Sanz:
Long ago, a man became lost in a forest. He wandered around that forest for days without end, but could never find the right way out. He became forlorn and truly believed that he would be stuck in that forest forever.
Suddenly, in the distance, he saw another person approaching. He was ecstatic and his heart filled with joy. “Now, I’ll surely find the right way out.”
As he came close to the other man, he said, “Excuse me, but do you know the way out of the forest? I’ve been wandering for days and I’m totally lost.”
The stranger answered him, “Unfortunately, I am also lost! I don’t know the way out either, for I too have been wandering for several days. Yet this I can tell you: Don’t go the way I went, for it will lead us astray. Let’s look for a way out together.”
During our journey of life, we often stumble and fall. We might take missteps and make mistakes. We sometimes veer off the right path and become lost in the forest. Yet, we are never alone. We have family, friends and neighbors to provide us with guidance and direction. They are by our side and it is through our connection to one another that we can return to our best selves.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses prepares to leave this world. He calls Joshua, his protégé and the future leader of the people, and says to him in front of the entire community, “Be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with the people into the land” (Deuteronomy 31:7).
Like Moses and Joshua, we too journey forth toward our promised land. Like them, we live presently in the wilderness, a place of great difficulty and negativity. How do we respond to our personal and societal missteps? Our rabbis teach that we do that together, in relationship. Only together can we be strong and resolute in the face of challenge. Only together, can we be filled with optimism and courage to change our world. So, let’s grab hands with our brothers and sisters and look for a path forward out of the wilderness. G’mar Chatimah Tova. May the new year be a good year for us all.
Rabbi Andy Gordon is spiritual leader at Bolton Street Synagogue.