The Four Weeks of Elul 5777 – Week One
My Dear Friends,
This Sunday, September 4th, 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 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.
The Four Weeks of Elul 5777 – Week One
Week One: Communal Selves
As you know, there are many changes taking place at Temple Emanuel. This year, we will be introducing our new Machzor (High Holyday Prayerbook), Mishkan HaNefesh. This will be Cantor Sack’s first High Holydays as our Sr. Cantor. Our Cantoral Soloist and Music Director, Steve Brodsky - while certainly not a new face at Temple - will nonetheless be taking on a much larger role at services. While we are confident that the beauty and traditions of the High Holydays at Temple will not only remain as powerful as they always have been, but will also be enhanced, we know that change of any kind can be unsettling.
Rav Abraham Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel wrote:
“Hayashan Yitchadeysh V’Ha Chadash Titkadeysh
Let the old be renewed and the new be made holy.”
This is our goal in introducing new liturgies and melodies at Temple this year.
One of the key ways that we both celebrate and assimilate change is through our community. As Jews, we see the power of coming together to celebrate, worship, find comfort and forge new paths in concert with one another. Most of us are part of multiple communities. Sometimems they intersect and sometimes they don’t, but our ability to forge meaningful relationships with those with whom we share our lives are vitally important aspects of our overall health.
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 the current divisive rhetoric so prevalent in the presidential elections to impact my relationships with people in my life?
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. How often many times, during the course of the past year, have I listened to or spread malicious gossip without thinking of the consequences of my actions upon myself, the people or persons about whom the gossip was spread, or upon the fabric of the community that it affected?
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 we utilize these and all of our questions to help us to gain a better understanding of our communal selves.
Rabbi Joseph R. Black