Sunday, August 19, 2012

Four Weeks of Elul - 5772 - Week 1

My Dear Friends,

I write this letter on August 19, 2012.  Today is also the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul.  In exactly one month we will be welcoming in a New Year on Rosh Hashanah.  During this month of Elul it is customary to begin intensive personal preparations for the New Year.  This process, called Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh – ‘an inventory of our souls’ – requires that each of us engage in a process of self-examination.  We need to look closely at our relationships, thoughts, deeds, fears and dreams.  We do this so that we can enter into the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe – spiritually and personally refreshed and prepared.  This is a powerful time of year:  when our tradition teaches that we need to ask those around us whom we have wronged to forgive us for our actions.  We are also commanded to forgive those who ask us as well. 

As we reflect back over the past year, it is important that we put every aspect of our lives into perspective.  For the past two years, I have continued a tradition here in Denver that I started in my previous congregation of sending out weekly lists of seven questions (one for each day of the week) during the month of Elul.  These questions are designed to help us examine our lives in all of the varied aspects and arenas in which we live:  Spiritual, Physical, Interpersonal and Communal.  Hopefully, by answering these questions we will be better prepared to welcome the New Year - 5773.  The purpose of these questions is not to make us feel bad or unworthy, but rather to “nudge” us into looking at these vitally important aspects of our lives.  There will be seven questions in each list – one for every day of the week.
I welcome your comments and suggestions for additional questions and formats that we can use.   If answering them causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Heit and I would welcome the opportunity.  Note that all of these materials will be available in several formats:  electronically - via email, on our Temple website and Facebook page, in my blog:;  and in hard copy at the Temple Office. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, please contact Susie Sigman at  She will be happy to forward them.

May this time of Chesbon Hanefesh be fruitful for all of us as we prepare to enter into the holiest days of the year.


 Rabbi Joseph R. Black

The Four Weeks of Elul 5772
Week One: Spiritual Selves
As we enter the month of Elul, we begin by examining our spiritual lives.  Spirituality is one of those words that mean different things to different people.  For the purposes of this list of questions, I want you to focus on Spirituality as referring to those aspects of your life that help you to feel connected to something greater than yourself. 

The past several weeks have been very difficult.  The shocking details of the Aurora shootings and the echoes reverberating in the Sikh Mosque outside of Milwaukee have forced many of us to ask difficult questions about how a caring and compassionate God could allow such evil to take place.  This is not the first time that tragedy has forced us to question. Unfortunately, the Jewish people are well acquainted with grief and loss.  And yet, Judaism teaches that questioning can strengthen faith.   Our tradition is filled with exemplary men and women who challenge God.  From Abraham and Moses, to Rabbis Sally Priesand and Miri Gold, we have learned the importance of challenging the status quo and finding new paths to the Divine as a result.

We grow spiritually when we feel that our lives have meaning and purpose and that we are part of a Divine Plan.  The liturgy of the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe – is filled with the language of God’s judgment.  Rather than perceive this is a negative or punitive light, try to imagine that we are being judged for the way that we fulfill the spiritual potential that God has given us.

This week's questions deal with our Spiritual Selves. During this time of Chesbon Ha Nefesh, one of our tasks is to examine the status of our relationship with God, Torah, and our own mortality.  As always, the following questions should not be perceived as a complete listing – they are merely a beginning. If you have other questions that you think may help others in our community, I would love to receive them.


1.      Over the course of the year, how much time have I been able to dedicate towards appreciating the beauty of God’s creation?

2.      When/where was the last time I felt close to God?

3.      With the memory of the recent tragedies, how has my faith been tested this year?  How has it been affirmed?

4.      How has my faith evolved since I was a child?

5.      When was the last time I was able to pray without any distraction?

6.      How often, during the course of the past year, have I been able to set aside my own needs for something bigger than myself?

7.      If I were put in the position of explaining my beliefs to others, would I feel comfortable in doing so?

 May you utilize these and all of your questions to help you gain a better understanding of your spiritual selves.

L’Shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black


  1. Hello Rabbi - this sort of blog posting and communication is AWESOME! Thank you for starting and sustaining it. My spirituality includes Hashem in the expansiveness I cultivate.

  2. Thanks Ellen. I appreciate your feedback. L'shanah tovah. Rabbi joe