Rabbi Robinson’s Sermon March 8, 2024

Vayakheil for Reading 2024 Plaut P. 612

Source Sheet by Yair Robinson



Exodus 35:1-3

(1) Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that יהוה has commanded you to do: (2) On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to יהוה; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. (3) You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the sabbath day.


שמות ל״ה:א׳-ג׳

(א) וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כׇּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה לַעֲשֹׂ֥ת אֹתָֽם׃ (ב) שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֥ם קֹ֛דֶשׁ שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַיהֹוָ֑ה כׇּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה ב֛וֹ מְלָאכָ֖ה יוּמָֽת׃ (ג) לֹא־תְבַעֲר֣וּ אֵ֔שׁ בְּכֹ֖ל מֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיכֶ֑ם בְּי֖וֹם הַשַּׁבָּֽת׃ {פ}


How do you know when you’ve been forgiven? Of course we know when we ask for forgiveness, when we take action to rectify our offense, and make amends, but how do we know, do we really know, we’ve been forgiven? Is it the tone of voice from the offended party when they accept our apology? Is it something in their mannerisms–watching the shoulders lower and slack, perhaps, or their eyes soften? Is it in a moment of touch? Can we ever really know? It’s a troubling question and one that perhaps, has crossed our minds from time to time, especially in moments when we have sought atonement from friends, family, or colleagues. We could imagine any number of answers, including the ones I’ve listed and perhaps ones I haven’t thought of, but I’d like to suggest another: a way we know we’re forgiven is when things go back to normal.


Now, the philosophers and Talmudists in the room could have a field day with that–what even is normal, anyway? And it’s a good point. But I think most of us know what I mean. It’s that moment when both offended and offender can exhale, the tension released between them, and return to treating each other, maybe not as it always was, but with a familiarity, comfort and trust that, I would argue, signifies that the apology has been accepted.


That normalcy, I would suggest, is present in our text, which on the surface is Moses’ reiteration of the mitzvot of Shabbat. We’re more familiar with this as a text that goes on to inform our understanding of what is the kind of ‘work’ we’re supposed to avoid on the Sabbath. But before we can dive into that, Rashi, our favorite medieval Frenchman, makes a comment that you could almost miss. He mentions that this gathering by Moses of the people takes place the day after the day of atonement. And, if we read backwards, we see Moses’ actions to achieve atonement for himself and the people after the sin of the Golden Calf–asking God’s favor, carving new tablets for the commandments. And God reciprocates, proclaiming the divine attributes of forgiveness. So Moses knows that they are forgiven, but the people do not; at least, not until this moment when Moses, seemingly hitting the reset button, tells the people that they will be observing the Sabbath. We are back to normal, the normal patterns of life and observance that the original covenant promised. If we imagine it, we can almost picture the Israelites, gathered anxiously around Moses, hearing him announce the observance of Shabbat, finally releasing that held-in breath, relaxing the tension in the back. The damage to the relationship is repaired. We are, once again, God’s people.


Does ‘normal’ mean ‘back to the way things were’? As my teacher R’ Tali Adler writes: “It doesn’t change what came in between, the chaos and the pain and the death. It doesn’t bring us back to the before, unchanged. But it is a promise: however lost we feel, however much we sin, however far away God feels, we can always find our way back to each other.”


And that brings an added meaning to our celebration of Shabbat. Like Yom Kippur and the sign of the rainbow, The Sabbath’s return is a sign of repair. As R’ Tali continues, “each time we light candles as the sun begins to set, we come back to this moment where the rupture finally begins to heal.”


Whenever I lead parents in the prayers over their children, I often remind them that we pause every Friday, no matter what else happened that week, no matter what tumult or upset, to bless our children, to let the past week’s chaos go. Likewise, Shabbat comes into our lives every week to open up the possibility of healing, of restoration, and of repair in our relationships–with God, with our world, with one another. In that way may we fulfill the words of the prayer, that Shabbat be an unbreakable bond, and a sign of that bond, for every generation, forever. So may it be. Amen.