Several years ago, Sue and I joined a group of friends on a 7-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. The experience of travelling through this majestic place was both overwhelming and life-changing. It evoked simultaneous feelings of uniqueness and insignificance that has shaped my view of both time and space to this very day.
All the travelers on that tiny raft shared in the knowledge that we were incredibly fortunate to be able to traverse through this ancient wilderness. We felt blessed and special to be able to see it from the bottom up: reveling in both the power and beauty of God’s creation. At the same time, the sheer magnitude of this wonder of nature that was carved into the earth’s crust over millions of years – drop by drop through the power of the water that flowed through it - made us feel very small and inconsequential. Our brief sojourn in the shadows of the canyon’s walls was nothing more than a blip in time in comparison to the enormity of what we were experiencing.
Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pzhysha was reported to have taught the following: "Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other, according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words: 'For my sake was the world created,' and in his left: 'I am nothing but dust and ashes.'" In this way, we can strive to keep ourselves in balance. When we are feeling overwhelmed by the many forces in our lives that force us to question our meaning and purpose, we should reach into our right pocket and see just how fortunate we are to have been given the gift of life. The fact that we are lucky enough to experience daily life reminds us to make the most of every second given to us by our Creator.
At the same time, however, during those times when we allow our ego-driven selves to gain ascendance; when we are full of pride and self-confidence, we should reach into our left pockets and remind ourselves of our frailty and mortality.
Coming to terms with our spiritual selves means that we need to be cognizant of the delicate balance between the dual feelings of uniqueness and insignificance. Judaism’s insistence on ritual and daily spiritual practice can help us to balance ourselves as we traverse the sometimes-treacherous waters of the rivers of our lives.
With this awareness in mind, I offer the following questions for the third week of Elul that deal with our spiritual selves:
- Have I been able to balance the ups and downs of daily living and see them from the perspective of something larger than myself?
- 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 I define God)…?
- How often, during the past year, have I been able to set aside my own needs for something bigger than myself?
- 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?
- When was the last time I was able to pray without any distraction?
- How many times, over the course of this past year, have I taken the time to give thanks for the gift of my life?
Again - 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 the month of Elul. Some of them are repeated from previous years. Again, we want to hear from you. If you have thoughts, questions or comments about anything, we encourage you to let us know. Feel free to contact any of the Clergy at Temple if you want to explore any of these questions further. These questions will also be posted on my blog, the Temple Emanuel website (http://www.emanueldenver.org) and our Facebook page. I also encourage you to attend the “4 Weeks of Elul Study Sessions” every Thursday afternoon from 5:30-6:30 at Temple. There are two classes left. You don’t have to come to every class to find them meaningful.
May you utilize these and all your questions to help you gain a better understanding of your spiritual selves.
Rabbi Joseph R. Black