The Four Weeks of Elul 5778 – Week One
My Dear Friends,
Sunday, August 12th 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 compels us to ask those around us whom we have wronged to forgive us for our actions if we have wronged them. 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 is my tradition, 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, Cantor Sacks, Rabbi Hyatt, Rabbi Baskin 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 year has been filled with divisiveness – from within and without. I write this post on the one year anniversary of the tragic Charlottesville, Virginia march where our nation watched with horror as a violent display of racist hatred - culminating with the brutal murder of a young woman named Heather Heyer (z”l) - became a rallying cry for extremists. This all took place in an environment where, increasingly and alarmingly our national level of discourse has plummeted to the point where politicians and elected officials have discarded any pretext of civility as they scream at each other on television and social media.
The relationship between the State of Israel and the diaspora communities has never been more tenuous. Recent statements and actions by the current Israeli Government have alienated and isolated progressive Jewish communities to the point where many American Jews-especially young people - are questioning the entire Zionist enterprise altogether.
I firmly believe that one of the most important ways that we sustain and strengthen ourselves and our souls is through consistent and meaningful participation in the life of the Synagogue. It is here that we connect with and affirm our relationships with God and one another. Now is the time to evaluate how we both support and participate is sacred community. No congregation or community is perfect. There will always be areas in which we fall short. The real question is: Are you willing to both accept our shortcomings and work to make Temple Emanuel a better place?
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:
- Have I taken advantage of all that my congregation and community have to offer?
- Have I taken my own comfort for granted and “looked the other way” when I saw poverty or despair in my community?
- Have I allowed my political perspectives to color my relationships with those with whom I disagree?
- Regardless of political perspective, have I been vocal in my support of the State of Israel?
- 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 explored ways to address the conflict and tension that have become commonplace in everyday discourse?
- How have I worked to strengthen the many communities of which I am a part?
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.
Rabbi Joseph R. Black