My Dear Friends,
As I write this second installment of the Four Weeks of Elul, my heart is heavy. Tomorrow morning, I have the difficult task of officiating at the funeral of a young man who died suddenly and tragically - leaving behind a wife, two young children, a stricken family and many, many friends. He was a pillar of our community. He gave his time, expertise and resources to support the Denver Jewish and secular communities. At the service tomorrow, our sanctuary will be filled to overflowing with grieving family, friends and colleagues.
When we confront tragedy: when our ordered and compartmentalized world is suddenly turned upside down, we look to one another to find comfort and caring. As members of a Kehilla Kedosha – a sacred community – we share a common bond and connection. The presence of caring souls helps to ease the burden of grief, pain and fear.
But it is not only in times of difficulty that we need community. We also come together to celebrate the joys of life, to experience the sacred, to learn from one another and chart a course for our future. Community strengthens and inspires us to share in the wonder of God’s creation.
We live in a society that threatens the very foundation of community. Our digital technology encourages us to work alone. This can be a good thing, but there is a fine line between alone-ness and loneliness. One of the curses of the information age is the fact that we no longer are forced to be in proximity with one another. We can be educated, entertained and earn a living all in the privacy of our homes.
Jewish life is based on a core value of creating and celebrating community. We need a minyan in order to pray. We pray in the plural. We say: “OUR God and the God of all ages,” not “MY God. I have always found that the rhythm of weekly Shabbat observance is a vital part of my overall spiritual health. The act of regularly coming together for worship and study not only strengthens our souls, it also prepares us for those moments when we need to be together – when we experience loss or tragedy; when we want to share our joy.
During this second week of Elul, I want us to focus on the importance of our communal selves. If you have not taken the opportunity to participate actively in Temple Emanuel this past year, I would ask that, during this month of Elul when we perform the Mitzvah of Cheshbon HaNefesh (soul searching), you might think of ways to become involved. You will be glad that you did.
The following questions will help you to focus your Elul preparations on how you can make a difference for good in your congregation, community and, indeed, the world itself. Again, this is by no means a complete list. There are many other areas that can be explored. Hopefully, this will provide you with a starting place for a much longer process.
- Have I been generous enough in my support - financially or otherwise - of the institutions and charities that I find important?
- Do I feel confident that I will be able to help those who need me in times of trouble?
- Have I worked to strengthen my congregation? Have I given of my skills and expertise when asked?
- How often have I been content to complain when I was affected by a problem – but after complaining, not done anything to help solve the problem?
- Have I allowed petty squabbles and disagreements to distract me from the importance of staying involved in my community?
- When I am at synagogue, have I done all that I can to make others feel welcomed in the same way that I want to feel welcome?
- Have I allowed myself to enjoy Shabbat in the context of my community?
May this time of Cheshbon Hanefesh be fruitful for all of us as we prepare to enter into the holiest days of the year.
Rabbi Joseph R. Black