The month of Elul provides us with an opportunity to examine and evaluate our spiritual selves. The word, “spirituality” has a different meaning to many of us. It can used to both elevate and denigrate. Some traditions teach that there is only one pathway to enlightenment. For those who accept their particular teaching, there can be no deviation. Salvation is based on acknowledging weaknesses and flaws and accepting that we are powerless to fight or question. Access to enlightenment is black and white. Outsiders are mistrusted and even condemned. While everyone is entitled to their own perspectives, there is a danger when those in power feel the need to impose their beliefs on others. When faith becomes a litmus test, we can cause great harm to both society and human dignity.
While there are certainly fundamentalist pathways within Judaism, much of Jewish Spirituality revolves around exploring the mysteries that surround us. It also is not exclusively external. We find God’s presence in celebrating the uniqueness and diversity of Creation. The pathway to enlightenment is not only the province of the faithful - it can be found in giving thanks, helping others and performing daily mitzvot.
For the purposes of this list of questions, I want to broaden our focus. Let us define spirituality as referring to those aspects of our lives that help us to feel connected to something greater than ourselves. We grow spiritually when we feel that our lives have meaning and purpose and we are open to the possibility of the miraculous around us.
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. I will post them on my blog – which is linked to both Facebook and our Temple Emanuel website.
QUESTIONS – WEEK TWO – SPIRITUAL SELVES
- What events have caused me to question my faith during the course of the past year?
- When/where was the last time I felt close to God (however you define God)…?
- Jewish tradition teaches that all of us are created in the Divine Image. When was the last time I looked for holiness in the people that I love the most? What about those with whom I fundamentally disagree?
- What aspects of my personality reflect the values that I have inherited from my family? From society? From Popular culture? From my own inner holiness?
- When was the last time I was able to pray without any distraction?
- How often, during the course of the past year, have I been able to set aside my own needs for something bigger than myself?
- During those moments when I did feel close to God (however you define God…) this past year, was I able to hold on to those feelings and share them with others?
Again, these lists are in no way complete. They are designed to help us as we prepare for the High Holy Days. Again, they will be posted on my personal blog (www.rabbijoeblack.blogspot.com), on the Temple Facebook page and in hard copy at the Temple Office. If any of these questions has caused to you want to speak to me or any of the other clergy at Temple Emanuel, please do not hesitate to call us at 303-388-4013. You can also send me an email at Black@EmanuelDenver.org.
May you utilize these and all of your questions to help you gain a better understanding of your spiritual selves.
Rabbi Joseph R. Black