Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Four Weeks of Elul 5775 – Week One: Our communal Selves.

The Four Weeks of Elul 5775 – Week One
My Dear Friends,

Today marks the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul – the month preceding the High Holy Days. It is customary during this holy month 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. During this sacred season we 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 for the process of teshuvah (repentance/returning). Our tradition teaches that the month of Elul is when 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. As in previous years, during the month of Elul I will be sending out weekly lists of seven questions (one for each day of the week) to members of our community and to all who wish to receive them. These questions are designed to help us examine our lives in all of the varied aspects and arenas in which we live: Communal, Spiritual, Physical, and Interpersonal. Hopefully, by answering these questions we will be better prepared to enter into the New Year. 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 these questions causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Heit, Cantor Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity.  Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office.  They also will be posted on my blog and linked to both the Temple website and Facebook page. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, please contact the Temple office and we will be happy to send them out.

Week One: Communal Selves

The past several weeks have been filled with divisiveness – from within and without. Reactions to the nuclear deal with Iran threaten to divide us.  The specter of politics and policy becoming intertwined with communal commitment and our relationship with the State of Israel looms threateningly large on the horizon.  I am concerned that our disagreements may harm our relationships with our elected leadership, the State of Israel, and one another.  While conflicts almost always arise over complicated matters, the fact that individuals and organizations on both sides of the political divide are using the issue of support or opposition to the accords as a litmus test of loyalty is a development that we can ill afford. We owe it to ourselves to learn as much as we can about the complexities of the agreement.  Read what others are saying.  Understand that intelligent people have come to different conclusions  based on their understanding and perspective of the world around them.  We can agree to disagree – but, in the process of doing so, we must respect each individual’s own decisions.

I was in Israel last month and, while our countries are very similar, there are also important differences.  Israelis love to argue.  They do it with passion and purpose.  The halls of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) and the coffee shops on the streets are often echoing with shouts and disagreements.  And yet, after the arguments are over, people on different sides of the ideological spectrum can sit down together and maintain close friendships.  Here in the States, disagreements all too often lead to disenfranchisement.  One of our tasks, as we approach this New Year, is to find pathways of recognition and understanding that will allow us to have differing viewpoints, but maintain our relationships and shared values.

The following are a few questions designed to help us explore our communal selves as we begin the process of Cheshbon Hanefesh:

  1. Have I taken advantage of all that my congregation and community have to offer?
  2.  Have I taken my own comfort for granted and “looked the other way” when I saw poverty or despair in my community?
  3. Have I allowed my thoughts and feelings about the Iran deal to attack those with whom I disagree?
  4. Regardless of political perspective, have I been vocal in my support of the State of Israel?
  5. 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?
  6. When asked to help support the important institutions in my community, have I given as much as I could or should?
  7. What’s the best thing I did this past year to assist my synagogue or community? 

These questions are in no way complete.  They are designed to help all of us to begin the process of looking deep within ourselves and our souls as we enter into the month of Elul.  Again, we want to hear from you. If you have thoughts, questions or comments about anything we encourage you to let us know. 

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

L’Shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Note - thank you to my colleague, Rabbi Alan Litwak who pointed out that numbers' 2 and 7 were repeated in my original text.  I have changed #7 to reflect the ideas in the comment below....

1 comment:

  1. Friends -I received the following email from a member of our congregation that I thought should be shared. This person writes about the fact that, in addition to looking at our failings over the course of the year, we also can take a step back and think about our successes as well. I appreciate the feedback. Here is what I received:

    "Dear Rabbi Black, How about playing this Week One letter backwards? For example, what steps have I thought about during the past year to take advantage of my synagogue or community? How can I actualize those ideas ? What’s the first step I could take? Could I do that now? Ok, let’s go!
    Or to put it another way, what’s the best thing I did this past year to assist my synagogue or community? Can I continue this work? Can I make sure others know about the need?

    These are powerful messages because they turn out to be calls for action leading to concrete steps; they give credit to the listener for being thoughtful so that the message is encouraging. We have suffered from a year of dispiriting news from the middle east and from anti-Semitism here at home on college campuses and elsewhere. At little encouragement can’t hurt."