Wrongs into Rights

By School Rabbi and Middle School Principal Fred Elias

What can we learn from Moses’ personal Vidui?
Rabbi Fred Elias

In Parashat Vayelekh, Moses prepares to say his final good-byes to B’nai Israel after 40 years of ups and downs in the desert. In this moment, he faces the painful realization that not all of his leadership has been perfect. Checking the “need-for-improvement” side of his personal ledger, Moses says, “And I will hide my face on that day because of all the evil that has been committed when the Israelites turned to other gods (Devarim 31:18).” He also understands, however, that he has successfully led the Israelites to their ultimate transformation: B’nai Israel is now ready to become Am Yisrael – a nation in a land of its own – now that the people are equipped with the 613 Mitzvot God has given them. On the very last day of his life (Devarim 31:12), Moses instructs the people regarding Hakhel [gathering as a community], commanding that the Israelite nation gather in Jerusalem once every seven years to hear the words of the entire Torah. This ceremony, modeled on the gathering at Har Sinai, is given to the people so that as they enter the vast land of Canaan, there will be built-in time for them to come together like they had done years earlier when they witnessed God’s presence.

Moses’s personal balance sheet reminds me of when I served as a pulpit rabbi, and I encouraged my community to replace the traditional Vidui confession, or recitation of “wrongs,” with all the positive acts each of us had done that year. This was based on the Life-Affirming Vidui, written by Rabbi Avi Weiss. To the traditionalist, it seemed that I was taking thousands of years of the liturgy and changing it. I was pretty headstrong at the time regarding this mental accounting; however, as time went on, I gained a greater sense of what it means to reflect both on the negative things I have done in the past and, also reflect on the actions that embody the best of who I can be.

In the book, #PARASHA, Sivan Rahav-Meir writes, “When you want to correct yourself, it is very important to know what your bad qualities are, but it is far more important to know your positive qualities.” I have truly come to appreciate the importance for each of us to reflect on our wrongs as a way of helping us make things right.

Wishing you all a meaningful Shabbat Shuvah.

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