"When all these things have come upon you… and you take them to heart among all the nations to which the Eternal your God has banished you, you shall return to the Eternal, your God" Deuteronomy 30:1-2


This translation rearranges the phrases of the original Hebrew. That is necessary for better understanding in English. A more literal translation might be: "among all the nations where (God) has banished you, the Eternal your God is there; you shall return to the Eternal your God."

This is the way the Chasidic teacher Mordechai of Neschiz (1752-1800) read it. And here is what he has to say about it: "This is in defence of Israel who have been banished to places where, if the angels had been scattered in as many places, they too would have become sinners. 'Where[-ever God] has banished you', nevertheless, 'the Eternal your God is there.'"

Life is hard. We all must face its challenges: making a living, looking after ourselves and our families, negotiating a host of relationships from the most intimate to finding our way through the crowds on the tube or the bus. We are constantly faced with decisions, great and small. Life is stressful; nothing is certain, except that one day we will die.

Under circumstances like these, is it any wonder that we sometimes get things wrong, or even deliberately try to manipulate things to our own advantage and the disadvantage of others? The Neschizer Rebbe says even angels would have been hard-pressed to avoid sinning, had they been faced with what we have to confront every day.

As Rosh Hashanah ushers in our season of repentance, it becomes important to recognise how easily we may all be led astray. Look at the world we have to live in. And yet, God is here, among us, within us. This is not an excuse for the evil we do, but this awareness may teach us to forgive each other, and ourselves. Then we can truly return to the Eternal, our God.

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