We have our work cut out for us


By Rabbi Bruce Aft

This week’s Torah reading is Vayelech, Deuteronomy 31:1-30.

Moses said, “I am 120 years old this day and I can no more go out and come in….” (Deuteronomy 31:2).

In his commentary on this portion, Rabbi Abraham Twerski, of blessed memory, writes, “The Rabbi of Gur said that by his 120th birthday, Moses had reached the ultimate in spirituality and holiness that a human being can attain.”


As we celebrate the high holidays, I am always inspired by the spiritual growth that occurs in communities which I have served. When the shofar is sounded, we are awakened to the still, small voice which encourages us to grow.

In a course I am teaching at George Mason University, I gave extra credit to students who wanted to write about what provided meaning in their lives. A number of students wrote about the importance of helping others as a way of attaining meaning.

I believe that through service to others we become holier and grow spiritually. Spiritual stagnation can lead to depression and sadness.

Rabbi Dr. Marc Gopin, the director of the Center for Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, and a professor at the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, helped facilitate a number of compassion workshops at Congregation Adat Reyim a few years ago. He taught us that brain functioning improves when we perform compassionate acts.

As we offer our heartfelt prayers during this holy season, may each of us find a way to serve others. On Yom Kippur morning (Sept. 16), we read from the prophet Isaiah, whose words continue to remind us to help others.

Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the LORD is favorable?
No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into
your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.
Then shall your light burst through like
the dawn
And your healing spring up quickly.

There are so many causes in which we can be involved that can make a dramatic difference.

As I write this, there is devastation throughout our country due to storms and fires, there are refugees waiting to be helped, there are COVID victims in need of care, there are first responders who are at the brink of exhaustion.

We have our work cut out for us. And may we continue to grow in spirit and in caring by performing compassionate deeds.

Rabbi Bruce Aft is visiting scholar at George Mason University, Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

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