Video made available on Thursday by NASA has enabled viewers to relive the drama of the Curiosity rover when it touched down on Mars. It is human nature to study that which is most distant, while what is closest to us often remains shrouded in mystery. Rabbi David Wolpe has written: “To pass through this world without knowing one’s own soul is forever to carry a message unread.” We have entered the season dedicated to getting to know our souls better.
Of course, this season will not represent the first time self-exploration has been tried for most of us. Is there a message that might liberate deeper potential for this year’s self-study, thus enhancing this year’s self-renewal?
A curious detail in this week’s Torah portion speaks to me this year in surprising ways. Moses said, “And God said to you, ‘don’t continue to return back this way again’” (lo tosifun lashuv baderech haze ode) (Deut. 17:16). Fascinatingly, a careful reading of prior passages of Torah fails to find God actually having said these words. Why then does Moses indicate otherwise?
The context of this passage involves the laws surrounding anointing a King (melech). Ironically, King Solomon will stumble on all three warnings explicated in this week’s Sedra – too many wives, horses, and too much gold. In different ways, we too need to be cautious about ‘promotion of self’. Too much curiosity roving deep into our inner lives makes us susceptible to a kind of narcissistic self-absorption. To mitigate any tendency toward the ‘Sovereign self’, Divine Sovereignty becomes Rosh Hashannah’s central theme. Crowning God as Melech, Sovereign, is about much more than throne or palace imagery. It is about reminding myself that when God is sovereign, I am not.
Moses’ decision to reinforce teachings around rare occasions for human sovereignty (monarchy), “don’t continue to return back this way again”, conveys seasonal lessons. When it comes to excavating our souls, agency is ours to dig as deep as we can. And may we traverse a new path in the year we are to soon begin.
A sweet Shabbat to you.
Rabbi William Hamilton