On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah - Vayeilech: The Sacred Art of Letting Go

Parashat Vayeilech is read between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time of transition for all of us. We've brought in the new year with hopes, prayers, and the shofar, and we look toward Yom Kippur, where we are tasked with letting go of the last year and moving forward. Letting go and coming to terms with change can be difficult. What does the Torah teach us about how to move on? Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss Parashat Vayeilech and the sacred art of letting go. 

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[URJ Intro:] Welcome to Episode 37 of "On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah," a podcast presented by ReformJudiasm.org. Each week, we reflect on more than 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom in just 10 minutes, with modern day commentary on the weekly Torah portion. And as we often tell you, we do think there are plenty of ways to interpret Torah. We want to hear what you think! Talk to us on Twitter. Our handle is @reformjudaism, or like us at facebook.com/reformjudaism, and you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. This week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, will teach us about Parashat Vayeilech. He asks us what the difference is between a change and a transition, and whether or not you know when hold on and when to let go?

[Rabbi Rick:] This week we focus our attention on Parashat Vayeilech, the next to last portion in the Book of Deuteronomy, the next to last portion in the Torah that we read in the weekly cycle. And Vayeilech comes for us this week literally between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. It comes after we've brought in the new year 5777 with hopes, and dreams, and prayers, and the sound of the shofar.

And Vayeilech is a portion that puts us in a very poignant moment, that poignant moment that oftentimes asks us both to hold on and to let go, to hold on to all that is holy and precious in our lives, but also to let go so that we can enter not only a new year, but new stages of our life.

The way that that grows out of the parashah is that it is Moses's final words to the Jewish people. And it's a very poignant moment. I mean, Moses was larger than life, filled with wisdom, and strength, and leadership, and sometimes impatience, and lots of times patience. And the Israelites can't quite imagine what would life be without Moses. Will they have the strength to go into those new places and those new moments and those new stages of life? So, they are in that in-between place. And we're in an in-between place between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

I would like to just offer an insight that comes to us from the work of a remarkable psychologist, William Bridges, who wrote about transition. The way of transition is this incredibly important book. And he asked us to learn some lessons that there's a difference between something happening to us and our transition with it.

So, there are all the external things that happen to us. Right? We could get a new boss, become engaged. A loved one could die. We could move to a new city. Or we could be promoted in our work. Those are changes that happen in our lives. Transition is the way we are emotionally and spiritually adjust to those new realities.

And so, it requires us both to very thoughtfully let go, and it also asks us to know how and when to hold on. So, it is a really delicate art for us. And I think of just a few weeks ago, many people took their little ones to their first day of school. And maybe it was the first day of nursery school, or of Kindergarten, or first grade. And that moment where you kind of let go and you take your leave is really poignant. Some of us dropped our young people off for college. And there is a letting go that comes with that. Some have, in the past months, walked a child down the aisle and let go as they took their stand and became a couple with their intended.

We have in our lives all of these transitions, all these things that happen. Some of the things are so filled with blessing and joy. Other things are the painful things. So, we're very aware, particularly around Yom Kippur, of both the fragility and the way in which life is always changing.

And the question is, can we change and grow with those moments and those stages? Are we held back because we can't let go? Right? I was looking around at the drop-off at college. There are those parents who stay too long. You know? Everything's unpacked. All the boxes are carried up the steps. And you just look at those parents say, now you're supposed to go. They're going to be fine. They're going to make new friends. They're going to learn all these things. The same thing in that Kindergarten class.

The ability to let go is not to abandon, but to set free and to make possible. For the Jewish people, it's that moment of letting go of this incredible leadership of Moses and embracing the new leader, whose name is Joshua, who's nervous as can be, is filled with all of the anxiety of, will I be able to follow in the footsteps of the great Moses? So, we're always in between. Those moments can be filled with such possibility, and they are fraught with danger.

On Yom Kippur, we also once again in the year rekindle candles of remembrance for our loved ones. And for some of us, the wounds of letting go are very, very recent. For others, they are decades old. So, we hold on to memory, and we hold on to values, and we hold on to teachings, and we hold on to love.

We let go of hurts, and sometimes the insults, and the disappointments, because that is, after all, what the day of atonement is all about. It's knowing what we actually have to really let go of, so that we can be the people we need to be in the coming year.

So, as we read Parashat Vayeilech, let's think about Moses and Joshua. Let's think about all those things that will change in the coming year. And let's focus our attention on how we can change and grow with them, can transition, can find the ways to embrace the new and not be bound and held back by the old.

It's a delicate balance. It was for Moses. It was for Joshua. It is for you. It is for me. It is for all those we love and care about. So, in this week's parashah literally preparing us not only for the Shabbat we will read Vayeilech but a couple of days later, when we will gather with our communities to atone, to be at one once again. Let's get the sacred art of letting go and holding on.

[URJ Outro:] Thanks for joining us for this week's episode of "On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah." If you liked what you heard today, and we hope you did, you can find new episodes each week at ReformJudaism.org and on iTunes, where we would love for you to rate and review us. And you can visit ReformJudaism.org to learn more about all aspects of Judaism, including rituals, culture, holidays, and more. "On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah," is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

Until next week -- l’hitraot!