Monday, August 21, 2017

Elul and the Eclipse: The Four Weeks of Elul. Week 1 - Our communal Selves

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My Dear Friends,

The first day of the Hebrew month of Elul arrived concurrently with a total solar eclipse - the first in 37 years over the contiguous United States.  Ironically, this is a perfect introduction to the sacred tasks that lay before us as we prepare to enter into the Yamim Noraim – the High Holy Days.  Many of us donned our protective glasses and sat outside with our heads tilted skywards and watched as the sun gradually disappeared into the moon’s shadow.  Here in Denver, we were not able to see the sun become completely blocked, but the effect of watching the sudden darkness that passed over us was powerful nonetheless.

In scientific terms, the moment of “totality” – when the eclipse is complete and only the sun’s corona is visible – provides a rare glimpse into the mysteries of the brilliant orb around which our planet revolves.  For a brief moment, scientists are able to directly measure the intensity of the sun’s energy and huge amounts of data are gathered and analyzed so that we can learn more about our solar system.

In many ways, the month of Elul resembles an eclipse – albeit on a more regular and sustained basis.  For four weeks, our tradition teaches, we are given an opportunity to strip away the filters and biases that conceal us from our true selves and focus on the sacred work of cheshbon hanefesh – ‘taking an inventory of our souls.’ 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 renewed and prepared for the process of teshuvah (repentance/returning). Our tradition teaches that the month of Elul is when we 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 to consider each 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.

Week One: Our Communal Selves
Being part of a synagogue means that we are committed to the concept of building a strong community. Together at Temple Emanuel we study, pray, socialize, commit to social justice, celebrate joyous occasions, and find comfort during times of difficulty. Building and sustaining our kehila kedosha (sacred community) is not always easy.  It requires that we work together to create and sustain multiple portals of entry so that every member finds a place where they feel fulfilled and useful.
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 the many opportunities for learning, prayer, social action, and culture 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 political divisions to damage my perspective on our common values?
  4. 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?
  5. When asked to help support the important institutions in my community, have I given as much as I could or should?
  6. Regardless of political perspective, have I been vocal in my support of the State of Israel?
  7. When confronted with change, have I been open to new possibilities and opportunities?

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.

Like a solar eclipse, this sacred time provides us with a rare opportunity to see ourselves in a new light. May we utilize these and all of our questions to help us to gain a better understanding of our communal selves.

L’Shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

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