“Appreciating our own Inner Worth”
(updated and revised from Vayeilech 5761-2001)

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Vayeilech, is almost always read together with the preceding parasha, Nitzavim. They are read separately only when there are two Shababatot between Rosh Hashana and Sukkot, neither of which coincide with a holiday.

On this Shabbat, which is known as “Shabbat Shuva,” the Shabbat of Repentance, we read, in Deuteronomy 31:10-13, of the mitzvah of הַקְהֵ֣ל Hak’hayl. The Torah reports, that after the people of Israel settle in the Land of Israel, once every seven years, during the festival of Sukkot, all the people are to be called together, men, women and children to study Torah from the mouth of the king.

Hak’hayl was an extraordinary event, underscoring the fact that during the Sabbatical year, when the land lay fallow, citizens of Israel must enhance themselves religiously and spiritually by studying Torah. The king of Israel is expected to serve as the paradigm for all of Israel by leading the studies personally, teaching and learning Torah with the people.

The specific portion of the parasha in which Moses gives the people the directive concerning hak’hayl is introduced with the following words. The Torah, in Deuteronomy 31:9 states: וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת, וַיִּתְּנָהּ אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי לֵוִי, הַנֹּשְׂאִים אֶת אֲרוֹן בְּרִית השׁם, וְאֶל כָּל זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, that Moses wrote down the Torah and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the Covenant of G-d, and to all the elders of Israel.

While the text relates that Moses wrote down the Torah and specifically delivered it to the hands of the priests and the elders, it is clear that religion in Judaism was not only intended to be of the concern of the priests, or to be the province of a small esoteric circle of leaders. The priests are merely the guardians and teachers of the Torah. The religious truths found in the Torah were intended to be the everlasting possession of the entire people. This is what is clearly indicated in the verse in Deuteronomy 33:4: תּוֹרָה צִוָּה לָנוּ מֹשֶׁה, מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב, Moses commanded us the Torah, it is an inheritance to the entire congregation of Jacob.

As is often true in Judaism, we encounter an antinomy, a contradiction between the primacy of two reasonable principles: finding the proper and necessary balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the congregation. So, for instance, while it is the Jewish people’s custom to pray with a congregation, as part of a minyan–a quorum, the most significant prayer–the Amidah, is always recited silently, as if we are praying alone, as individuals. And while the community has certain powers, the powers that the community have, really derive from the individuals within the community. It is this balance of the needs of the individual and the needs of the community that Judaism does so well.

This delicate balance, is also reflected in the role played by the festival of Rosh Hashana (which begins on Monday evening, September 6th) and that introduces a 10 day period of collective repentance. But we dare not lose sight of the key role that the individual plays in achieving collective forgiveness. Each person must see him or herself as the key element in the successful achievement of forgiveness, not only on a personal level, but for the entire Jewish people.

When it comes to seeking forgiveness, those who are truly contrite often view themselves as unworthy, not only unworthy of G-d’s forgiveness, but unworthy of participating in the communal contrition of the Jewish people. Not so, says Judaism. Each and every soul is precious to G-d. Each and every soul can qualify for Divine forgiveness, and each and every soul has the power to become the determining factor to achieve successful Teshuva–repentance for the entire Jewish people.

I would like to share a meaningful parable which I believe conveys a powerful message regarding an individual’s true worth.

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of the pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, the other pot was perfect. And while the perfect pot always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For two full years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one-and-a-half pots full of water to his master’s house.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” “Why?,” asked the bearer. “Of what are you ashamed?”

“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house,” the pot said. “Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you do not get full value from your efforts.”

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old, cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But, at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because as usual, it had leaked out half its load. And so again, it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day, while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have had this beauty to grace his house.”

The moral of course is that each of us has our own unique flaws. We’re all “cracked pots” (some more cracked than others). But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. We must take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

And there is much good out there. There is a lot of good in each one of us. Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape. We must remember to appreciate all the different people we encounter in life!

Each of us has the power to change the world. In order to accomplish this, we all need to focus on our own self worth, and learn to appreciate the abundant good that is to be found in others.

לְשָׁנָה טוֹבָה תִּכָּתְבוּ L’shana Tovah Tikatayvu – May you be inscribed for a year of health and peace.

May you be blessed.

Please note: Rosh Hashana 5782 is observed this year, beginning tonight, Monday evening, September 6,  and all day Tuesday and Wednesday, September 7 and 8, 2021.

The Fast of Gedaliah will be observed on Thursday, September 9, 2021, from dawn until nightfall.

The New Year holiday is immediately followed on Friday night and Saturday, September 10th and 11th, by Shabbat Shuva.

Wishing you a שָׁנָה טוֹבָה  Shana Tovah, a very happy and health New Year.