Elul Expedition — King in the Field


Elul Expedition — King in the Field

The metaphor for the space of God-connection on Rosh Hashanah is “the palace.” The “palace” is a most special experience, separate from ordinary life, a place of special holiness, a place we don’t enter casually. We prepare as best we can, physically and spiritually. We do our best to be worthy, and where we fall short, we pray for compassion and forgiveness.

Elul is different. The metaphor for the God-connection space is “the field.” During Elul, our sages teach, “the King is in the field.” The “field” is the material space where we live our ordinary lives. Teshuvah — returning. During Elul, God is doing teshuvah! Returning to us to meet us in the field.

Our challenge during Elul: to meet God’s teshuvah with our own. But where and how do we find God in the field? Is it when we take the opportunity to do an act of kindness for another person? Is it how we notice with gratitude when someone does an unexpected act of kindness for us? Is it when we see a beautiful flower, or the smile on the face of a stranger, or stop to listen to a bird sing? Is it all of the above?

So here’s our invitation: Post a Comment below, on any or every day of Elul, about your personal encounter with the King in the Field. We also invite you to check out the comments of friends who are sharing the journey, and share your personal responses to what they have said.

Most of all, we invite you to share this journey of our Torah Circle community!

Note:

  • Please scroll to the bottom to add your comment.
  • If you want to include a picture, just email it to Aryae, and we’ll add it to your post. 🙂

26 thoughts on “Elul Expedition — King in the Field

  1. Aryae Post author


    On the 2nd day of Elul, Wendy and I were walking on the Coastal Trail, talking about teshuvah, and how we would spot the King/Queen in the Field when He/She appeared. Then we saw this heart attached to a post along the trail. Thank you King/Queen for making this one one easy! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Diane Elliot

    On Sunday, the 5th of Elul, I joined hundreds of folks at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, to sing, pray, and prepare to march to downtown Berkeley, to bring an energy of kindness and uplift to Civic Center Park, where an alt-right rally had been scheduled for 1 PM. Even though the rally had been officially cancelled the day before, a number of coordinated groups still planned to converge on the park, to bring a message of peaceful resistance–“not in our town!” I had made a decision several days earlier not to march, but to stay at the church, to meditate, and to hold a grounded loving space for those who might be fearful or hurt. Several people who could not walk easily elected to stay with me. The church offered us its beautiful little Loper Chapel, and we arranged ourselves in a circle, centered ourselves in our breath, and began to beam lovingkindness toward downtown Berkeley and everyone there. People came to join us for a time, then left, and others came. At some point, a person with visual impairment entered with her service dog and sat down to meditate with us. When I heard them enter, I opened my eyes for a moment. The large yellow hound had lowered himself onto the floor in the middle of our circle beside his owner’s chair. He was looking deeply and directly into my eyes, as I offered some meditation instructions. Then he stretched onto his side and deeply relaxed. Later, my friend David Daniel who was sitting next to the dog and its owner, said that he was tempted to pet the dog, however he knew that you weren’t supposed to touch an on-duty service dog. But the dog stretched out its head and laid it on David Daniel’s foot in a sweet gesture of trust and comfort. Thank you dear dog, angel of the One Most High! We continued to send lovingkindness and blessing to our dear ones, to ourselves, and even to those whom we fear and with whom we disagree. By the end of an hour-and-a-half, the Queen/King was certainly sitting with us.

    Reply
  3. Aryae Post author

    Walking along the Coastal Trail where so many interesting things seem to show up, Wendy and I started noticing little rock piles in the shape of people and animals. Then we noticed the signs: “Hobo Art.” Then we saw an old dude sitting by the side of the road.

    “Are you the Hobo?” I said.

    “Yeah!” he said. “Name’s Cyrus.” He lives in Reno and comes over to the coast to make his art.

    “How long do these statues stay here?” I said.

    “I take ’em down every night,” he said.

    “What’s the point?”

    “So people can enjoy them during the day!”

    I thought about that. “So how do you make a living?”

    “I live in my RV. If people get pleasure from my art, they can put a little something in my can here. I always have enough to eat for supper.”

    “What’s next?” I asked.

    “Going south,” he said. “Next stop is Santa Cruz.”
    null
    “Wow!” I said. “You’re bring pleasure to a lot of people.” Wendy and I put a few dollars in his can.

    “Thank you,” he said.

    “Thank YOU!” I said.

    I was talking to Cyrus, and also to the King in the Field.

    Reply
  4. Wendy

    This year, our apple tree grew five apples, two more than last year. It seemed that the tree was gifting us with a little more fruit. I was so pleased, and I would watch the apples growing, first green and then turning to red. My anticipation was that we would have apples from our tree this year for Rosh Hashanah like we did last year. I remembered how sweet last year’s crop was. Yesterday, I went to look at the apples and saw they were all gone without a trace. My assumption was that the raccoon family that visits at night gobbled them up. How sad I felt. Later that day, Aryae told me that our neighbor, who did not know about the situation, offered him apples from their tree since there were too many for them to eat. A lesson about sharing, and the King was in the field and tree.

    Reply
    1. Dan Howard

      Wonderful story, Wendy!
      There’s an apple tree in my mother’s backyard that we planted when my father passed away in 1991.
      In late summer it goes crazy with fruit. Every bite I taste reminds me of the good times we shared and how sweet it was.

      Reply
  5. Dan Howard

    The Queen is in the Field

    24 Elul 5777 / September 15, 2017


    I attended a retreat over Labor Day weekend in Marin at Green Gulch Farm/Retreat Center (affiliated with the Zen Center of San Francisco).

    The grounds and accommodations were beautiful, peaceful and welcoming. Muir Beach was a 20-minute walk on trail from the retreat center. To get there I needed to pass though huge the Green Gulch gardens – acres of both vegetables and flowers. I moved slowly, meditatively, as if walking a labyrinth. The vegetable garden was breathtaking; every variety and hue of green was represented: cabbage, broccoli, chard, bok choi, parsley, basil…

    I paused, and a feeling of peace stirred in me. But the Queen had more surprises in store.

    Beyond the vegetable gardens were the flowers. Again, a stunning variety waiting to greet me, arrayed in their glorious colors. And there were friendly insects as well, honeybees and butterflies, adoring their floral hosts. The small creatures were busy with their holy work of pollination and did not mind me gazing at them with admiration and awe, just a few inches away. I took a deep breath and allowed the enchantment and calm of the garden to wash over me.


    Time seemed to be suspended. The Queen smiled.


    – Dan Howard

    Reply
  6. Diane Elliot


    In this hay-dry August cow pasture in Olema, a couple of sweet Naked Ladies stand, their hair-petals blown in the wind, Shekhinah’s harbingers….Shanah tovah all!

    Reply
  7. Wendy

    From the Mussar Institiute

    Zman of Elul
    by Rabbi Avi Fertig, Director of Mussar, The Mussar Institute
    The month of Elul begins on August 12th this year, with Rosh Chodesh Elul, as it has for millennia. During the entire month of Elul, many have the custom to add Psalm 27 to the daily prayers. We recite (verse 4): “One thing I ask from the Lord, one thing I desire—that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of the Lord and to meditate in His sanctuary.”

    אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת ה’ אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית ה’ כָּל יְמֵי חַיַּי לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם ה’ וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ

    We recite this prayer with its vision of resting in the house of the Lord because Elul is a time to seek intimate closeness to God. So central is this idea to the reality of this month that the very word ELUL / אלול is an acronym for the phrase “ani l’dodi v’dodi li”—I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Shir HaShirim/Song of Songs 6:3).

    We seek to draw close to HaShem this month because we are preparing for a meeting. We will soon stand before our Creator in the bare truth of who we are, first on Rosh HaShana and then on Yom Kippur. Elul is a time to prepare for this meeting. It is the appointed time—the zman—a period of time infused with a certain spiritual essence, which we revisit year after year, though we should see that we are never the same person each time we are blessed to find ourselves alive in the month of Elul.

    Elul prepares us for the High Holy Days, which are a serious time of judgment and teshuva. But, we are meant to see repentance and judgment as situated within the context of God’s love for us. It is such an extraordinary thing to be a human being, endowed with a holy soul, and in this month, we take stock, clean house, and set our course for living up to our majestic role. And, next month, we will account for ourselves.

    Elul gets it spiritual essence from Moshe (Moses) Rabbeinu when he ascended the mountain seeking God’s forgiveness for the Jewish people (Bamidbar/Numbers 14:11-12).

    God said to Moshe, “How long shall this nation continue to provoke Me? How long will they not believe in Me, despite all the miracles that I have done among them? I will kill them with a plague and annihilate them. Then I will make you into a greater, more powerful nation then they.”

    Moshe mounted a number of arguments in reply, culminating in a request for forgiveness: “With Your great love, forgive the sin of this nation, just as You have forgiven them from [the time they left] Egypt until now.”

    And God responds: “I will grant forgiveness according to your words.”

    The Sages reveal that it was the day before Rosh Chodesh Elul that Moshe was directed to carve the stone that would be used for the second tablets. The next day (Rosh Chodesh Elul itself) God said to Moshe, “Ascend the mountain to Me” (Shemot/Exodus 24:12).

    When Moshe went up to receive the Torah anew, they blew a shofar in the camp. Therefore the Sages established blowing the shofar on Rosh Chodesh Elul in every year, and for the entire month of Elul, in order to call Israel to teshuva. Forty days later, on Yom Kippur, God granted the Jewish nation complete forgiveness, restoring the intimate relationship we had merited before sin.

    In practical terms, Elul is the time to reassess our relationship with HaShem and with others—a time to reflect on what we have done and where we are headed. It is time to pay attention to the gap between our convictions/commitments and the way we actually speak and act. It is the time to renew our commitments and begin anew, with energy and enthusiasm to change and grow further. It is a time to intensify our engagement with Mussar, which provides us with the process, the curriculum and the tools that can help us achieve these goals.

    Reply
  8. Wendy

    From Rabbi Simon Jacobson

    – excerpted from Simon Jacobson’s classic 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays.

    THE JOURNEY BEGINS
    Imagine the scene: A spouse has betrayed his or her partner in the worst possible way—defiled the very essence of their relationship. That fragile thing called trust has been broken.

    The presenting challenge is this: Can this damaged relationship be mended, can it be rebuilt after such profound betrayal? For 40 days, “a faithful shepherd” attempts to mediate. He cajoles, begs, prays, does everything he possibly can to reconcile between the partners. But to no avail.

    Now the compelling question is this: Should he give up or should he continue to persist in his attempts for reconciliation? No small question. Not only the relationship, but life itself hangs in the balance.

    This is the essence of the month of Elul.

    The Jewish people had betrayed G-d in the worst possible way: they built a Golden Calf a mere 39 days after an encounter with G-d at Mt. Sinai, which was the most momentous event in history! And after they had explicitly accepted G-d’s commandment not to worship others gods! Seeing what they had done, Moses shatters the tablets he received from G-d, and returns to the mountain for 40 days to pray for the people’s forgiveness. But to no avail. G-d will not relent and forgive. These 40 days are called “Days of Wrath.”

    But Moses does not give up. After 40 days of tortuous pleading, unperturbed, he returns to the mountain for yet another 40 days.

    From his unwavering faith in G-d’s mercy comes the power of Elul. It is the power of hope. True hope—relentless, persistent, unwavering. Eternal hope—absolute belief in G-d and His infinite power of forgiveness and compassion, absolute faith in us, and absolute faith in the unconditional love between us and G-d. (Because after all, when we betray G-d we also betray ourselves—our soul, our essence, our Divine calling and ultimate mission in life.)

    Finally, Moses does prevail—40 days later on Yom Kippur.

    Elul is the story of Moses’ journey. It is the story of building a true and enduring relationship, even after it has been challenged. Moses’ Elul experience provides us with a special energy of love and compassion during this month, when the “King is in the field” and radiates the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion.

    Reply
  9. Wendy

    From Rabbi Tmimah Audrey Ickovits

    Hodesh tov. Elul brings with it a chance to look inward and develop balance and harmony within. Forty days Jews will be honoring Yom Kippur; the day of at-one-ment. We have an opening for development in the meanwhile – a chance to move more closely into coherence and unifying energy that comes with it.

    The link below will lead you to a practice from the Holy Zohar to guide your during these potent 40 days.

    PETAH ELIYAHU, TSHUVAH, AND SEGULAH PRACTICE

    What is a Segulah?
    The word segulah might be translated as a spiritual remedy or an auspicious tradition. It is a practice meant to bring forward a transformation.
    Segulah is the potential to be what you really are. The Jews are called ‘am segulah, which means that they are endowed with the ability to be great through Torah and Mitzvot. The
    vowel segol and the cantillation mark segol or segoltah each constitutes of three dots in a triangle, like an arrow head pointing to the direction of movement.
    The term segulah also refers at times to an amulet, talisman or other objects that hold the power of transforming potential into actual. A segulah is an action that is reputed to lead to a change one’s life and wellbeing.
    For instance, acting as the kvatter (the one who brings the baby into the brit milah/circumcision) is purported to be a segulah for fertility, wearing the jewelry of the bride while she is under the chupah is said to be a segulah for finding a husband. There are also special segulot related to prayer. Reciting the Song of Songs daily for 40 days, or
    praying at the Western Wall every day for 40 days is reputed to “shake the rafters” of Heaven, increasing the likelihood of a favorable response.

    Why Forty Days?
    Forty days represents the period in which nothing becomes something, e.g., an embryo,
    according to our sages, forms in forty days. Moses ascended to Mount Sinai to receive
    Torah and stayed there for forty days twice (some commentators say three times).
    Specifically relevant to our practice, Moses is called to ascend to Mount Sinai on 1 of Elul
    in the aftermath of the event of the Golden Calf. He descends from the mountain
    with the new humanly-carved tablets forty days later, on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is
    the day of utmost forgiveness.
    The Hebrew letter mem n has a numerology of 40. Mem is associated with the element
    mayim (min); water in Sefer Yetzirah – in fact Mem is the first letter in Hebrew word for
    water; Mayim (min). Water is known and used for its transformational qualities; for
    example in Mikveh; ritual bath, Taharah; purification of the body before burial. Water is a
    key element in life. In fact, life (as we know it) does not exist without nourishment provided by water.

    Reply
  10. Wendy

    From Reb Mimi Feigelson

    ELUL TORAH
    We separate,
    You cry.
    You engrave an oath
    on my heart
    to kneel
    to kiss the ground
    to kiss your dream
    for Yourself
    for me
    for our beloved people.
    I strive to “get a life”
    as I collect secret private moments
    kneeling towards
    Mother Earth
    publicly exposed
    privately yearning.

    Reply
  11. Wendy

    From the Mussar Institute

    Teshuva Reflection
    by Rabbi Pamela Wax

    If a person wronged his chaver (friend) and the latter died before he could ask him for forgiveness, he should take ten people and say the following while they are standing before the [deceased chaver’s] grave: “I sinned against God, the Lord of Israel, and against this person by doing the following to him….” (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 2:11)
    Palliative care doctor Ira Byock writes that (1) “Thank you,” (2) “I love you,” (3) “I forgive you,” and (4) “Forgive me” are the four statements — said regularly and often — that make for both living and dying well (The Four Things that Matter Most). But as the Rambam suggests, “Forgive me” is not bound by time; the penitent can still ask for and receive forgiveness even if its recipient is deceased.

    I have been thinking about this text and what it means to repent and ask forgiveness of the dead since the recent suicide of my brother Howard z”l in May. I am not ready just yet to go to Howard’s grave to perform this ritual, and I’m not quite sure who might be the appropriate nine people to constitute the minyan with me. What I do know is that I have teshuva to do on the three intersecting planes on which this middah operates: with other, with self, and with God, and that this teshuva work is inextricably tied to the forgiveness work that is also incumbent upon me.

    With other

    While I would like to think that I might have prevented Howard’s death had I known his state of mind, I also wonder if it is hubris to believe so. My teshuva is not about his death, per se, but about his last days. It breaks my heart that I was not “clean” with my brother when he died. He, on the other hand, practiced the teaching of “Repent one day before your death” (Pirke Avot 2:15) — leaving me a message the day before he took his life to ask my forgiveness for a matter that had been standing in our way for the past year. I expect to be repenting every day for the rest of my life for not calling back — wondering if I might have put his mind at ease about my love for him in his last hours.

    Mussar lesson: “Repent one day before your death” is wise advice, indeed — and as Rabbi Eliezer also taught, “You must certainly repent today for you may die tomorrow. In this way, you will be repentant all the days of your life.”

    With self

    While I must take responsibility for the role that my own arrogance and stubbornness played in my dealings with my brother, coming home to self (teshuva) requires that I not unduly beat myself up with guilt or blame, which is a perverted form of taking responsibility.

    Mussar lesson: Diligent self-forgiveness is a path to teshuva, and one’s wholeness depends on it. In Shaarei Teshuva 1:35, Rabbi Yonah ben Avraham of Gerondi taught that “the repentant sinner should strive to do good with the same faculties with which s/he transgressed.” I am therefore striving to open my hardened heart both to self and other, and to act and speak with greater alacrity rather than my habitual obsessive rumination.

    With God

    The liturgy popped for me in unexpected and powerful ways during the period of shloshim. For instance, I noted the juxtaposition of blessings 5 and 6 in the weekday Amidah:

    Blessing 5 (on Teshuva): Return us, Avinu, to Your Torah. Draw us near, Malkeinu, to Your service. Bring us back to You in true repentance. Praised are You, God, who desires repentance.

    Blessing 6 (on Selichah): Forgive us, Avinu, for we have sinned. Pardon us, Malkeinu, for we have transgressed; for You forgive and pardon. Praised are You, God, Gracious One, with an abundant ability to forgive.

    While it is notably clever how each blessing invokes Avinu and Malkeinu, two names of God that are reminiscent of the Days of Awe, I am most drawn to understanding why the blessing for forgiveness — a kind of vidui (confessional) in which we twice pound our chests in penitence — follows after the blessing for teshuva, rather than the other way around. Shouldn’t our ability to ask for and receive forgiveness be a pre-requisite for a complete teshuva and not vice versa? Perhaps the liturgy is reminding us that recognizing the need for inner wholeness, that merely being on the journey towards teshuva, is a first step to being able to petition for forgiveness. It is also possible that we are being reminded that God is more interested in our actions for the future, our engaging in teshuva, rather than in our actions of the past, which would require selicha (forgiveness).

    Mussar lesson: While forgiveness and repentance go hand-in-hand, the blessing for repentance represents teshuva from love rather than from fear. A teshuva shleimah, a complete or true repentance, must be done for its own sake by doing good (aseh tov) and not merely by avoiding doing bad (sur mei-ra) (Psalms 34:15). I pray that my re-inspired devotion to Torah and to Avodah (the service of God) — two paths toward teshuva — are done out of love — for myself, for my brother z”l, and for God.

    Consider Now

    What can you identify in your own life within the three relationships (with other, with self, and with God) that might be a focus for teshuva?

    Reply
  12. Wendy

    From the Mussar Institute

    Growth Comes from Within
    by Rabbi Micha Berger
    “Oh my God! Nothing is ever going to be the same again!” Our office was just told to clear out, and “Use the stairs, not the elevator.” My manager exclaimed those words as we walked to the stairwell. Through the windows in our “glass building” we saw the second airplane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center.

    And he was right, in that we now live in a different, less safe, less stable world. More prone to panic and undisciplined, shallow responses to danger. Less trusting.

    That Rosh Hashanah, a week later (and still not back to work), my prayers soared “from the depths I cry out to You, G-d!” (Tehillim/Psalms 130) I couldn’t even say many of the prayers, as their words triggered memories that were all too fresh.

    But do you remember the following months? It was common to see someone pull over to help a stranger stranded on the side of the road, regardless of their ethnicity. We all proudly flew our flags in a show of unity. Even the dynamics and unity within our community of American Jews was markedly stronger. But now? The flag got dirty and faded into a grey, sky blue, and pink, and was taken down, not replaced. And that fellow on the shoulder of the road had better have roadside assistance or an AAA card. The warmth and togetherness didn’t last as long as the fear and tension.

    And on Rosh Hashanah, after going through my cheshbon hanefesh (spiritual accounting) for the year and deciding what to focus on for the coming year, I noticed – this looks a lot like last year’s list. Not a rare occurrence. But shouldn’t that have been “The Year?” Isn’t everything different now?

    The Kotzker Rebbe once asked his students: There are two people on a ladder, one on the fourth rung, and another on the 10th, which one is higher? I assume some of the students recognized it as a trick question and answered that it was the one on the fourth and some answered the 10th, figuring the Rebbe was starting with the obvious to lead them somewhere. Others were silent and waited to hear their Rebbe’s response. The Kotzker Rebbe’s answer was succinct, “It depends who is climbing the ladder, and who is going down.”

    After all, no matter how much we grow, a person is still finite, and the Divine – Infinite. Where we are truly in the “Image of the Divine” is not in how close to the Divine we reach, since that can only ever be an infinitesimal fraction of the gap. It is in the very act of reaching, of climbing the ladder (Jacob’s Ladder?), transcending the people we are today.

    Being dropped into a new reality doesn’t change who we are, deep down. Because spiritual growth is just that – growth. A process. And that is how, a mere 40 days after experiencing the revelation of the Ten Commandments, our ancestors celebrated an orgy at the foot of a Golden Calf.

    In that light, we should not make our teshuva plans for the year in terms of where we want to be spiritually by Yom Kippur, or even by next Rosh Hashanah. Rather, we should plan our change of direction. A new world does not make us new people. But it can motivate us to correct our aim.

    Consider Now:

    What direction do you feel HaShem and life are pulling you to that you could start working toward right now? What is going to be your first step?

    Reply
  13. Wendy

    From Rabbi Diane Elliot

    Days of Turning, Days of Awe

    The Days of Awe are fast approaching. On Saturday night, you may have attended a S’likhot service, a late-night ritual introducing the prayers and melodies of the High Holy Days. Hearing the strains of the familiar niggunim—Hashiveynu, the Thirteen Attributes of Lovingkindness—the heart softens and settles, preparing for the spiritual work of clearing the dead wood from our lives, making amends, asking for and offering forgiveness, and opening up internal space to receive the vital energies of this new year.

    Mystics taught that, with the advent of Rosh Hashanah, the energies of the old year whoosh upward and out through the tops of our heads, leaving our bodies feeling empty and vulnerable. When the shofar sounds on Rosh Hashanah day, the new year’s energies begin to flow in through that same opening and down into our bodies. This process takes time—ten days, to be exact!—during which we remain in a vulnerable state, as shaky on our spiritual feet as a newborn calf. On Yom Kippur, the day of At-one-ment, if we’ve done the spiritual work of the season, we are able to rejoice in the purification of our beings and a sense of renewed connection with Life. And the inflow will continue through Sukkot and, some say, all the way until Hanukah!

    In preparation for the days ahead, I invite you to consider the impetus for your own teshuvah—literally, your “turning” or “ returning”—this year. Is there something or someone valuable that you’ve left behind or forgotten? What or whom are you returning to?

    Rabbi Naomi Levy, in her inspiring book Einstein and the Rabbi, Searching for the Soul, writes about the yearnings and questions that people often bring to her: What should I do with my life? Is this the right person for me? How do I find my true calling? She sees these as “soul questions.”

    “We have a gnawing sense,” she writes, “that the life we are living is not the life we are meant to be living…. We experience these longings because at some point we became separated from our own souls, from a voice within that is here to guide us to the very purpose of our existence…. We fall into predictable patterns, we get through our days without reaching and stretching and listening. And then you wake up one day and you realize you have drifted far afield from your own essence. You lost yourself while trying to please others. Your work no longer resonates with you. Your relationships feel superficial. With all your obligations and pressures you’ve stopped doing the things you love. We wander in exile hoping for a way to return to our essence.”

    Perhaps you resonate with some of what Rabbi Levy is speaking about. Perhaps you have some longing, some vague inner tugging, that alerts you to a space, a gap that’s opened up between your soul essence and the daily unfolding of your life. Or perhaps you recognizes subtle spaces, ruptures in relationships, that you would love to heal, or to simply release. These spaces, these gaps, these vague yearnings that draw your attention, may be points of initiation for your own teshuvah work this year.

    During these next two weeks, you might want to spend some time feeling into these spaces, touching them gently, with compassion and curiosity, so that when you join in community for the chanting of Kol Nidre on the eve of Yom Kippur, in whatever sacred space you gather, you’ll be able to give voice to the nature of the longing that draws you forward this year, a sense of what you hope to release (forgive!), along with a vision of what might be birthing or strengthening for you in the months ahead.

    A poem to inspire your practice:

    Teach Me to Forgive

    Adon Ha-S’likhot
    Master of Pardonings,
    teach me to forgive–
    to forgive myself,
    to forgive You,
    to forgive those who have hurt me
    in the name of ignorance, mindlessness,
    certainty, rigidity,
    even righteousness and justice,
    even love;
    to forgive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    to forgive nature, human and otherwise,
    personal and impersonal,
    majestic and petty;
    to forgive death,
    to forgive You,
    to forgive myself–
    to forgive it all,
    so that I may open to life,
    living-and-dying as it is,
    flowing through me
    carrying it all along,
    a great river of living-and-dying,
    a mighty stream of birthing-and-dying,
    a towering wave of living-and-dying.
    Holy Merciful one
    Ba’al Ha-Rakhamim,
    teach me to forgive.
    –R. Diane Elliot, 2015 / 5776

    Reply
  14. Wendy

    From Rabbi Shefa Gold

    Elul: Facing the Music by Rabbi Shefa Gold

    The new month of Elul is almost upon us…

    This is the season to know our own song, to allow the echoes of our thoughts, words and actions of this past year to ripple through us, awakening knowledge and power for the song that is yet to be born. In “facing the music,” I hear the hesitant strains of my own broken dreams. I wince at the dissonance between intention and deed, between ecstatic ideal and sober reality. I listen carefully to tone and timbre. Where have I been halfhearted in my loving? I listen for harmony and counterpoint. Where have I created discord with my argument or complaint? And I notice pitch. How carefully have I listened? As I follow the line of my own melody, I ask, “Where is this leading me?”

    This song of my life makes a deep groove, and the record will play over and over and over again. The mind weaves an endless loop, repeating mistakes, like bad jingles or notes that fall forever flat without lilt or vigor. Yet during the High Holy Days we are given a reprieve from the oppression of habit. We are give the chance to — in the words of the classical prayer Unetaneh Tokef — “annul the severity of the judgment”, which means to stop the song, to hear its complex rhythms and beauty, and to begin to sing again, altering the pattern of this song so that its melody will birth a new singer.

    And how is this miracle accomplished? We are given a score consisting of 3 components. T’filah, Teshuvah and Tzedakah are the essential instruments necessary for the re-creation of the Song which is the flow of life. This is the time when “the great Shofar is sounded, and a still small voice is heard.”

    “The great Shofar is sounded,”…. bringing each of these instruments to life. “And a still small voice is heard,”…. calling forth new life, hope, promise and vision.

    T’filah : Prayer as Transformation

    Each time I face a community coming together for prayer, the question of why we are here and what we are doing hangs in the air. The outer reasons of comfort, nostalgia, belonging, creed are fine, but somehow will not suffice. Something in me yearns to go beyond the known….to be transformed…to die and to be reborn. Prayer is the path which leads me into the Void, into the silence, into Ayin which is the source of infinite potential. The words of prayer must point me towards that Nothingness, and the beauty of prayer exists to inspire in me the courage to “let go” completely.

    In letting go of life, expectations, identity, boundaries, belief, certainty, and content, I am set free from the chains of the past. Then I can allow the power of re-creation to surprise me. All of the power of prayer can be dedicated in trust to this process of transformation.

    Teshuvah : The Art of Response

    The second key is Teshuvah, a word usually translated as Repentance or Return. It also means Response, and in that meaning I find instruction guiding me towards a certain stance in relation to my life. When the “great shofar is sounded”…”the still small voice” emerges as my response.

    The art of response requires Listening which necessitates the ongoing cultivation of a patient, calm receptive presence. I don’t mean listening as a passive bystander. The kind of listening I’m talking about is when you allow yourself to be addressed directly; it means “taking it personally”.

    When I walk outside and look up at the sky, I can open myself to receive its blue as a gift or as a letter that is addressed to me. Its beauty calls forth a response…. gratefulness, praise, wonder. Something in me rises to meet that presence which calls to me through the purity of Blue. And when I encounter suffering in the world, I can let its mystery address me, calling forth compassion from my own depths. Response is an artform that requires opening, listening and knowing oneself and one’s reactions. “Response-ibility” is the freedom to respond wisely, rather than be enslaved by patterns of reaction.

    Tzedakah : Living out the Implications of Mysticism

    The word tzedakah is translated sometimes as justice, sometimes as righteousness, and sometimes as charity. All of these are usually understood as actions governed by rules imposed from without. Yet all of us have had powerful experiences which transcend our usual perception of separateness and plant deep within us a seed of the truth of our essential unity and interconnectedness. It is the seed of Tzedek, of righteousness. Most often that seed is ignored, belittled, compartmentalized, mystified, kept secret or forgotten.

    What can I do in the world that will be consistent with the vision of unity that I had? How do I relate to strangers knowing that we are intimately bound? How shall the implications of the peak unfold in my daily lowland wanderings? That flash of knowing is like “the great shofar” that is sounded, an encounter with mystery. And then “the still small voice” calls me to live in the truth of my encounter, in the illumination of that flash.

    Facing the Music

    The time has come to face the music. At Mount Sinai we heard the lightning and saw the thunder. Facing the music is like seeing the thunder. It is stepping back from the narrowness of normal sense perception that merely sees sights and hears sounds. Revelation happens beyond the confines of “normal” mind which tries to figure it out and make sense.

    May the coming holy days take each of us high and deep, beyond the tired old song, and may the music we find coming through us in the year ahead be an inspiration for all.

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  15. Wendy

    From the Mussar Institute

    Rabbi Judith Edelstein,

    Teshuva is welcoming back those individuals I have cut out of my life. I learned the following practice years ago, but, sadly, do not recall the source; otherwise, I would offer attribution and praise.

    After lighting the Shabbat candles, eyes closed, the first time I circle my hands over the flames, I visualize and embrace the people I love. I wrap them in my heart, offering a collective Shabbat kiss and hug. The next circle sweeps in those I love who are no longer on this earth. I remember them with gratitude as I transition to the holiness of Shabbat. In the third and final span, I struggle to encompass the ones I’ve pushed away due to anger and hurt. “I forgive you,” I whisper to myself and to them, “even if it’s only for this moment.” These minutes will add up over the weeks and months. Then, G-d willing, comeRosh Hashanah, I will fully open my heart to those I’ve exiled.

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  16. Wendy

    From Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein Teaching of Rav Kook

    HA’OROT-OROT HA’TSHUVA:THE LIGHTS OF RETURN

    “When one forgets the essence of one’s own soul, when one distracts their mind from attending to the substantive content of their own inner life, everything becomes confused and uncertain. The primary role of of tshuva…is for the person to return to their true selves, to the root of their soul.” (Orot HaTshuva 15:10)

    Tshuva can be translated as ‘return, penitence, repentance’.

    The Torah’s calendar now takes us into a profound time in which tshuva is central to the experience.

    We recently began Elul, the sixth month of the year which precedes Tishrei,the seventh month. This is important preparation for the High Holy Days -Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur and the joyous Festival of Succot.

    This month is equivalent to the sixth day of the week in which we prepare for the blissful immersion into Shabbat. Similarly now, we are encouraged to use this month as a cleansing process so that we can be our fullest selves in the presence of the Divine (and each other) during Tishrei (and always).

    Elul was of particular significance in Rav Kook’s life and practice. He was born on the 16th of Elul in 1865. He arrived in Jerusalem on the 3rd of Elul in 1919 to begin serving as the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. He passed away exactly 16 years later on the 3rd of Elul in 1935.

    One of the main foundations of his life and thought is the reality and importance of tshuva for our personal, national and universal being. In 1925 his most well known book- Orot HaTshuva/The Lights of Return was published.

    He explained in the introduction:

    “I feel prodded by a mighty force to speak about tshuva and all my thoughts are focused on this theme alone.”

    The book is a 17 chapter tour de force in spiritual literature.

    It has been widely read and continues to be in the ‘religious Zionist’ movement which Rav Kook, his son and students birthed in Israel. Many religious IDF soldiers carry a pocket size copy of it with them at all times. Rav Kook himself reviewed it closely every Elul as part of his preparation and tshuva process.

    It is thus most appropriate at this time to read some excerpts from this masterpiece. I will continue to use the word tshuva rather than the less adequate English translations.

    “Physical tshuva is related to all transgressions against the laws of nature, and those laws of morality and Torah that are linked to the laws of nature. Every act of wrongdoing must in the end engender illness and pain, and the individual as well as society is exposed to much suffering as a result of this.

    After it becomes clear that the person, as a result of misbehavior, is responsible for their distress, they begin to give thought to correcting their condition, to return to the laws of life and observe the laws of nature, morality and the Torah.” (Chapter 1)

    It seems planetarily we are paying for our transgressions against the physical laws of life and nature.

    Rav Kook continues to explain the different levels of tshuva:

    “The higher expression of tshuva comes about as a flash of illumination of the all-good, the divine, the light of the One who abides in eternity. The universal soul, the spiritual essence is revealed to us in all its majesty and holiness, to the extent that the human heart can absorb it.

    Indeed, is not all of existence so good and so noble, and is not the good and the nobility within ourselves but an expression of our relatedness to the all? How can we allow ourselves to become severed from the all, a strange fragment, detached like tiny grains of sand that are of no value?” (Chapter 2)

    Here Rav Kook places tshuva in a cosmic context.

    It is the return of the human to living in harmony with the cosmic principles and realities. The integration of the personal and the cosmic is a foundation of his (and the Torah’s) perspective. We see this highlighted in the following pieces:

    “The individual and the collective soul, the world soul, the soul of all realms of being cries out like a fierce lioness in anguish for total perfection, for an ideal form of existence, and we feel the pain and it purges us.” (4:1)

    “The highest sensibility in the soul of the people of Israel is the quest for universality. The people aspire for this by the very essence of its being, and this affects all existence. The desire for tshuva in its highest form is rooted in this hidden longing.” (5:6)

    “The soul of the people of Israel expresses itself in the striving for absolute justice, which, to be effectuated must include the realization of all moral virtues.” (5:7)

    The ultimate goal of the impulse of tshuva is to bring about a world of ‘absolute justice…the realization of all moral virtues.’ Nothing less. It is the full manifestation of our highest ideals in reality.

    It is an expression of the highest freedom:

    “Tshuva is the aspiration for the true original freedom, which is the divine freedom, wherein there is no enslavement of any kind.” (5:5)

    This is a powerful force in action:

    “The desire for tshuva is related to the universal will, to its highest source. From the moment the mighty stream for the universal will for life turns toward the good, many forces within the whole of existence are stirred to disclose the good and to bestow good to all…

    Tshuva is inspired by the yearning all existence to be better, purer, more vigorous and on a higher plane than it is. Within this yearning is a hidden life-force for overcoming every factor that limits and weakens existence.” (6:1)

    Rav Kook places tshuva in the context of the expulsion and return to the Garden of Eden:

    “At the inception of creation it was intended that the tree have the same taste as the fruit. (Genesis Rabbah:5:9)

    All the supportive actions that sustain any general worthwhile spiritual goal should by right be experienced in the soul with the same feeling of elation and thought as the goal itself is experienced…But earthly existence, the instability of life, the weariness of the spirit when confined in a corporate frame, brought it about that only the fruition of the final step, which embodies the primary ideal, is experienced in its pleasure and splendor. The trees that bear the fruit, with all their necessity for the growth of the fruit have become coarse matter and have lost their taste. This is the failing of the ‘earth’ because of which it was cursed when Adam was also cursed for his sin.

    But every defect is destined to be mended. Thus we are assured that they day will come when creation will return to its original state, when the taste of the tree will be the same as the taste of the fruit.” (6:7)

    ‘The day will come when the taste of the tree will be the same as the taste of the fruit.’ No more separation between means and ends. We will be living back in the Garden of Eden experience.

    What does mean for each of us individually?

    In Chapter 15 of Orot HaTshuva we find this remarkable passage:

    “When one forgets the essence of one’s own soul, when distracts their mind from attending to the substantive content of their own inner life, everything becomes confused and uncertain. The primary role of tshuva…is for the person to return to to their true selves, to the root of their soul. Then we will at once return to G-d, to the Soul of all souls.

    Then we will progress continually, higher and higher, in holiness and in purity. This is true whether we consider the individual, a whole people, or the whole of humanity or whether we consider the mending of all existence, which always becomes damaged when it forgets itself.

    If one should envision that they sought to return to G-d without setting themselves in order, this would be a deceptive tshuva, through which G-d’s name will be taken in vain.

    It is only through the great truth of returning to oneself that the person, and the people, the world and all the worlds, the whole of existence, will return to their Creator to be illuminated by the light of life.” (15:10)

    The primary role of tshuva is for each of us to return to our true selves. For the creation to reach its fulfillment and for each of us to achieve our own fulfillment it is necessary to be who we truly are. What a blessing and gift, an indication of the love of the Creator for the created.

    Each one of us is a unique spark of Divine Light.

    In being our true selves, in harmony with our inner and outer beings, we are illuminating the Divine within us and shining it forth into the world.

    May all humankind shine brightly.

    Blessings from Jerusalem

    Itzchak

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  17. Wendy

    From the Mussar Institute

    Can I Really Change?
    by Rabbi Amy Eilberg
    I have the privilege of serving as the sh’lichat tsibur (prayer leader) for much of the day of Yom Kippur in my synagogue. For me, the final service of Ne’ilah is a spiritual highlight of the year. I’d probably feel hungry if I weren’t standing on the bimah that I love. But in that place, facing the ark, pouring my heart out with the words of the Machzor (High Holiday prayer book), I’m not eager to end the fast. It is a time of high energy and elevated consciousness, with a sense of cleansing and purity. During that last hour of the fast, it feels like I really could become the person I aspire to be.

    But then the service ends. I come down off the spiritual high, gather with friends I love for the break-fast, and begin to re-enter ordinary life. Sometimes I utter words of lashon hara (gossip or unsacred speech) before the meal is even over. Within a day or two, I am usually engaging in some of the forgetful patterns that I spent the whole Elul and High Holy Day season repenting for. A little voice inside might even whisper, “Can you really change? You’ve been this way your whole life!”

    Rebbe Levi Yitzhak of Berditschev (1740-1810 Poland and Ukraine) gives us a breath-taking image to remind us of the radical possibility of personal change.

    “Each and every Jew is obligated to believe with complete faith that in each and every moment s/he receives the life-force from the Creator. This is like the midrash, “ ‘Let every soul [neshama] praise God,’ (Psalms 150:6) rather, let each and every breath [neshima] praise God.” For, in each and every moment, the life-force tries to leave the body, but the Holy One sends a new life-force. Thus, accordingly, teshuva is really effective for everyone who turns in teshuva. You must believe that you are a completely new creation, and the Holy One, in great mercy, does not hold the former sins against you. . . . If you really believe that you are a new creation, then teshuva is effective. . . . Further, this elucidates the story in the Talmud, “ ‘When will the Master [Messiah] come?’ He replied, ‘Today.’ [That is, today] if you listen to God’s voice.” That is to say, the Messiah will come when you truly experience that every day you are a new creation.[1]

    Rabbi Levi Yitzhak teaches that with every breath we take, God breathes life into us as on the day of creation. If God did not want to keep sustaining us, we could die on any out-breath. God chooses to give us the gift of life anew each time we breathe in.

    We are literally a “new creation” with each new breath. In this new creation, the sins of the previous breath are dead and gone. Thus, with each new breath, teshuva becomes a reality, bringing us the vibrant chance for an entirely new life – more holy, more connected to God and to others, more deeply committed to kindness, goodness, and justice.

    This image makes my breath quicken. I feel the sense of renewed vitality in my chest. My body breathes with a sense of renewed energy. I can start anew. Anything is possible!

    The Alter of Slobodka expresses a similar sentiment, reflecting on the line from the Shacharit (morning) service, “God renews in God’s goodness, constantly, each day, the whole of creation.” He writes, “This is a recognition that the whole of creation is created anew, as if humanity was born now, as if a moment ago the universe was nothingness, and the human being was a lifeless body, . . . without knowledge or awareness, without wisdom to understand. And in the flash of a sudden moment, God’s radiance is suddenly shone upon us, opening vistas, bringing us into the light of the world, blowing within us the spirit of life . . . placing within us seichel (intellect) to understand and a spirit of wisdom.” [2]

    When I can remember to treasure the gift of each breath, and the gift of life itself, then I am in touch with the possibility of transformation that is present in any moment. Can I change? Absolutely, in any moment to which I bring my full attention and intention.

    Consider Now: Do you appreciate that each moment of life is a new gift from God? How might this realization inspire you to change?

    ________________________________________________

    [1] Kedushat Levi on Eicha 5:21
    [2] Ohr HaTzafon / The Hidden Light, essay called, “The Reason for Brachot,” translated by Rabbi Avi Fertig

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