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!

To post your encounter with the “King in the field,” please scroll all the way down. Once your post is complete, it will appear on top.

52 thoughts on “Elul Expedition — King in the Field

  1. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    O Maven of Forgiveness (Adon HaSelichot)
    Through language
    And deed
    Understanding hearts
    Revealing the deep
    Speaking righteous-ness
    The good deeds we are about to do
    Written in for a good and
    Sweet year
    Please prepare your
    JSG and ST

  2. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Awe life-and-strength
    I am not afraid
    Fear could eat me up
    Camped around me adver-saries
    I have asked of G-d one thing
    A good searching-out
    A visit now and again in Your house
    Where You are hidden
    To feel protected in the tents
    Behind the rocks
    I offer up my voice singing
    Lead me to the inside story
    It’s been a rough road
    Around me violence and emptiness
    To see good in the land of the living
    And brave and
    from Ps. 27

  3. Daniel Tov

    A Miracle Story
    by Daniel Tov

    Something happened to me last week that made me a true believer in miracles and angels.

    I was hit by a car while crossing the street in a crosswalk on a green light on August 15. The driver was making an illegal turn with sun in her eyes and…..boom!

    On impact I flew into the windshield, hit my forehead, and catapulted back to the sidewalk, feeling in that moment as helpless as a turtle on its back. The Angels immediately dispatched some Latino Good Samaritans to move me out of the street to a grassy area near the sidewalk. I was conscious and alive. The first miracle.

    Out of nowhere a young woman in her 40s appeared, hovering over me and identifying herself herself as a doctor named Christine. She proceeded to check my vitals and called 911. Absolutely an Angel of Mercy sent by HaShem. And no, this was not a hallucination:I was fully conscious during all of this. Another miracle.

    The ambulance arrived soon thereafter to take my the to trauma center/ER of a hospital nearby. Christine was with me again in the back of the ambulance before it left, and the paramedic who rode with me was a prince of a guy, very comforting and helpful. After arriving at the ER I was immediately hooked up to several IVs, had several X-rays, and a CT scan which revealed no evidence of any irregular brain activity, no detected head injury or trauma despite the fact that my forehead smashed into the car’s windshield.

    Other than a colorful assortment of minor scrapes, cut, and bruises, the only serious bodily injury I sustained was a fractured fibula (broken ankle.) A splint was put on, my leg was wrapped like a mummy from toe to knee, and I was sent home that night. A friend picked me and I got to bed around midnight with some discomfort but nothing I would call pain. Miracle number three.

    Then, on Saturday, I saw a doctor who removed the splint and replaced it with a large, heavy orthopedic boot to ensure the ankle was well supported while walking. Additional x-rays now revealed no ankle fracture at all, but merely a sprain.Yet another miracle!

    I am overwhelmed with gratitude for friends, family, and the k’lal who have risen with such love and blessings to support me.

    All praises to Shekhina and her holy Angels, including all Angelic agents in human form.

  4. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Yael Levy

    A Way In Jewish Mindfulness:
    Calls of Elul

    Dear Friends,

    Here we are at the threshold of Elul, once again.
    I give thanks for entering into this season together.

    The tradition teaches that as Elul begins,
    Hamelech b’sadei, the King is in the field,
    The Divine Presence comes out of hiding,
    And reaching toward us with love,
    Calls: Return.
    Return from where you have been,
    Return from where you are,
    Return to me and I will return to you. (Zech. 1:3)
    Return and together we will examine what has formed this year.
    What choices, words, actions, habits have been helpful and what needs to change.
    We will notice how we have brought love into the world and how we have added to the contention, confusion and fear.
    We will seek forgiveness, solace and connection.
    We will make amends
    And find new paths toward healing.
    We will realign with what is most true
    And return to each other and all life.

    At times the Divine Presence has to shout
    Over the protesting, despairing, berating mind,
    This soul work, the Melech reminds us,
    Is to be done with compassion and care,
    For it is complex being a human
    And we are living in a world on fire.

    Let us step into Elul grounded in compassion
    Open to guidance, and gently ask,
    How can I best be of service for the healing and benefit of all?

    May the sacred work of Elul
    Help us be creatures who shine with generosity
    And whose lives generate healing and love.

    Chodesh Tov

    Blessings and love to all,

    Rabbi Yael

  5. Aryae Post author

    I got to meet the King in the Field just before the start of Elul, when Wendy and I were asked to do the beginning prayer for a global ServiceSpace online gathering. It was the closing event for a multi-faith journey called Sanctuary of the Heart. For three months people of different faiths from around the world offered their prayers and experiences for a series of inquiries and practices.

    To open this closing session, we offered three words from Psalm 27: Horeni Yah Darkeicha — teach me, God, your way — to a melody that I wrote a few years ago. It was beautiful to offer this gift from our tradition to this global circle of friends, and I felt the King was definitely present.

    You can see our offering, and some of the others, at A Prayer from Your Heart.


  6. Wendy Berk

    From the Hebrew College

    Blessing for the Month of Elul
    By Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld

    One month from today, Jewish communities around the world will gather to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of a new year in the sacred rhythm of Jewish time.

    Hope for renewal stirs especially deeply within us during this season.
    We imagine ourselves standing before the gates of a new year,
    the gates of possibility, the gates of repentance, return, and repair.
    But, of course, the real question
    Is whether we will take the risk of unlocking the gates inside of us.

    There is a dramatic refrain that is included in the liturgy for Rosh Hashanah.
    Immediately after each blast of the ram’s horn,
    as the sound of the shofar still echoes in the room,
    We stand together and say,
    Hayom Harat olam.
    Today the world is conceived.

    A mythic claim is being made
    Since, according to tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of the world.

    But more importantly an existential demand is being made.
    Stand up, listen, and let yourself see the world with new eyes.
    Clear away the debris of disappointment and despair.
    Do not think you are too late, too tired, too old, too weak, too scared, too hurt, too flawed.

    We are all just beginning, we are all just beginners.
    Today the world is conceived.

    The Rosh Hashanah liturgy beckons us back to the beginning of time.
    We are invited to imagine the world as utterly new.
    A pristine universe of potentiality stretched out before us.
    We are asked to consider the possibility of such vast possibility.

    It is a big ask.

    And then Ten Days later, on Yom Kippur,
    we are asked to exercise a different set of soul muscles.
    We’re asked to consider the possibility that we are out of time.

    This is the act of imagination at the heart of Yom Kippur.
    We abstain from eating, drinking, and making love.
    We utter a variation of the death bed confessional.
    Many of us wear white, like the shrouds we’ll be buried in.
    The confrontation with our mortality reaches its peak at Ne’ilah.
    The whole season pointing to that moment
    When we stand before the gates of repentance
    And plead one more time.

    Enough denial.
    Enough distraction.
    Enough excuses.
    Enough equivocation.
    We have reached the end of the road.
    We are running out of time.

    The same gates that have been beckoning us for weeks
    Will begin to threaten.
    We will not stay open forever.
    What will you do with the time you have left?

    Another big ask.

    Today, as we enter the Hebrew month of Elul,
    I want to invite us back to the middle.
    To refrain from imagining the beginning of the world
    To refrain from imagining the end of the world
    And to open our hearts to beginning again
    Right from the middle of wherever we are.
    Which, after all, is the only place to begin.

    The middle, where, in the words of the poet Billy Collins,
    “Things have had time to get complicated,
    Messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore . . .
    Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
    here and pitches his ragged tent.”

    The middle, when, in the Torah’s central narrative
    Of disappointment and betrayal,
    After the gold of the calf has been turn to dust
    After the fragments of the first tablets lie shattered at the base of the mountain
    Moses climbs to the heights a second time and begs God,
    “Oh, let me behold your presence.”

    And in a great moment of forgiveness,
    In which divine compassion overtakes divine judgment,
    God tells Moses, once again,
    To take two tablets of stone
    And carve into them the words that were on the first.
    The same words, but this time the hand that writes is human rather than divine.

    This is the act of imagination at the heart of Rosh Hodesh Elul.
    Amidst the shattered fragments
    We climb the mountain again.
    We who are imperfect, and infinitely precious,
    take the risk of trying a second time.

    May we begin again, from the middle of wherever we are.
    May we begin again, in love.

  7. Wendy Berk

    From Jeff Foster

    This is a beautiful poem for Teshuvah


    When sadness or fear, anger or loneliness, shame or disgust surge through your nervous system, my love, do not believe for an instant that something is ‘wrong’ with you.

    Instead, be honoured that these ancient friends have chosen to visit!

    They have come not to hurt you but to heal you, to help you remember your wholeness, your vastness, your capacity for all life.

    You alone have the courage to feel these feelings, let them pass through to completion, bless them with attention and curiosity!

    Will you turn towards these inner children now?

    Will you open your arms to the helpless ones inside?

    Will you drench the sorrow, fear, loneliness and rage you feel now with love?

    Will you break the karmic cycle with your breath?

  8. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbis Victor and Nadya Gross

    T’shuvah is one of the most significant spiritual practices available to all of us. In the words of Reb Zalman: “One of the strongest teachings I’ve yet received on reincarnation came from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who once said, ‘The teachings on reincarnation are true, AND it is also true that you don’t have to wait to die to start a new life. In turning to God – t’shuvah, you can start the next incarnation right now.”

    So, how did Reb Zalman want us to do the spiritual practice? Traditionally, it consisted of noting what one did wrong, confessing and offering some kind of penance; not enough for Reb Zalman.

    Using the computer analogy of which he was so fond, he said: “…the question is in terms of how you deal with software. Certain things have to be installed first before you can do an operation … the first step is to open oneself to the deep response of being called … toward truth, toward recalibrating ourselves so we should be in maximal harmony with the intent of life. When I do that, I can move to the next part and say:

    I affirm that pull.
    I am not resisting it.
    I’m not repressing it.
    I’m not diverting myself from it.
    I’m feeling that pull and
    I am in agreement with it.”

    Thus t’shuvah becomes not simply an act of contrition, but a continuous process of recalibration to ultimately “connect with one’s ideal, one’s realized self, one’s [messiah] spark.”

    May we all answer the call this year, allowing ourselves to grow ever closer to our highest and best Selves.

    Shanah Tovah!

    Rabbis Nadya & Victor

  9. Suzanne

    Daily Mindfulness Meditation 08.24.21 with Rabbi Shir Yaakov Feit. There is a beautiful song that he wrote for Psalm 27 that can also be used on Yom Kippur for Yizkor. The song starts at 7:43 and ends at 12:45. There is instrumental music that continues after 12:45.

  10. Suzanne

    This got mixed up…This is by Nan C. Merrill
    Love is my light and my salvation,
    whom shall I fear?
    Love is the strength of my life,
    Of whom shall I be afraid?

    One thing have I asked of Love,
    that I shall ever seek;
    That I might dwell in the
    Heart of Love
    all the days of my life,
    To behold the Beauty of my Beloved,
    and to know Love’s plan.

    For I shall hide in Love’s heart
    in the days of trouble,
    As in a tent in the desert,
    Away from the noise of my fears.
    And I shall rise above
    my struggles, my pain,
    Shouting blessings of gratitude
    in Love’s Heart
    And singing melodies of praise
    to my Beloved.

  11. Suzanne

    Various interpretations on Psalm 27
    The first one is by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

    You are my light and my help Whom should I fear?
    You are the fortress of my life Whom should I dread?
    When the narrow ones gather their strength to devour me
    It is they who stumble and fall
    Even if a royal army were camped outside my gate
    My heart would not fear
    And when they struck out with terrible weapons
    against me
    Even then I’d trust
    One thing I ask for, one thing I hope— To live in your house
    All the days of my life
    To behold your loveliness
    Every morning in the light of your temple dawn
    Til on a doomful day
    You secure me in your precincts
    Conceal me within the folds of your covering tent Place me high and safe upon a rock
    My head lifted above the engulfing waves
    With the joy of my heart
    I will sacrifice
    Within that billowing shelter
    Singing and playing my abandonment to you
    Hear my voice when I raise it up
    Be gracious—answer me—
    Speaking with your voice my heart sang. Seek my presence.
    I will.
    Do not hide your glowing face from me
    This one is by Norman Fischer from Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms

    This is Nan C. Merrill -Psalm 27 Psalms for Praying

    Love is my light and my salvation,
    whom shall I fear?
    Love is the strength of my life,
    Of whom shall I be afraid?

    One thing have I asked of Love,
    that I shall ever seek;
    That I might dwell in the
    Heart of Love
    all the days of my life,
    To behold the Beauty of my Beloved,
    and to know Love’s plan.

    For I shall hide in Love’s heart
    in the days of trouble,
    As in a tent in the desert,
    Away from the noise of my fears.
    And I shall rise above
    my struggles, my pain,
    Shouting blessings of gratitude
    in Love’s Heart
    And singing melodies of praise
    to my Beloved.

    You are my light and my help Whom should I fear?
    You are the fortress of my life Whom should I dread?
    When the narrow ones gather their strength to devour me
    It is they who stumble and fall
    Even if a royal army were camped outside my gate
    My heart would not fear
    And when they struck out with terrible weapons
    against me
    Even then I’d trust
    One thing I ask for, one thing I hope— To live in your house
    All the days of my life
    To behold your loveliness
    Every morning in the light of your temple dawn
    Til on a doomful day
    You secure me in your precincts
    Conceal me within the folds of your covering tent Place me high and safe upon a rock
    My head lifted above the engulfing waves
    With the joy of my heart
    I will sacrifice
    Within that billowing shelter
    Singing and playing my abandonment to you
    Hear my voice when I raise it up
    Be gracious—answer me—
    Speaking with your voice my heart sang. Seek my presence.
    I will.
    Do not hide your glowing face from me
    Do not reject me in anger because of my shortcomings You have always been for me
    Don’t cast me off now, don’t walk away
    My helper, my friend
    My mother and father forsake me
    But you take me up
    Show me the way!
    Guide my steps on the clear path
    Against the ever-present cliffs and thickets
    Protect me from the noise of desire and hatefulness From false words and shouted accusations
    If I did not have faith in your rightness That it would bloom in this living land— It is unthinkable
    I wait only for you
    With strength and good courage—
    I wait only for you
    Reb Chava-Scroll down towards the end for her take on Psalm 27 and other insights.

  12. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Victor Gross

    Imagine God preparing to create the world. God looks at the primordial Torah containing the architectural design of the work. Alongside that Torah is the spiritual practice for any corrections that will be needed. It is called T’shuvah.

    Then later, a people receive torah on Sinai. And, each person who identifies with the Israelite folk receives an individualized torah … a set of blank pages to be filled in over a lifetime.

    At times there is a need for editorial work on this individualized torah. It was designed to meet with the editorial staff every day, though few did this. At least once a year, during the High Holidays, this happens.

    So what is this editorial work?
    It’s the T’shuvah from the time of creation.

    Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, a great Hasidic rebbe who died in the Holocaust, wrote that “as a creative act, t’shuvah is not simply a return. We return to growth and possibility that has lain dormant within us and not yet flourished, much as a sculpture lies hidden within a brute block of stone.”

    The wonderful thing about this t’shuvah process is that we are remaking ourselves anew each year at this time, finding latent possibilities within us that allow ourselves to continue to grow and flourish.

    Sounds good and not complicated, right?
    Consider the following midrash (Genesis Rabbah 1:9): It’s about the creation of the world and there is a discussion between some “philosopher” and Rabban Gamliel. They were reflecting on the creation story in Genesis. The philosopher said, “Your God is a great artist, but surely God found on hand suitable materials which were of help in creating!” Rabban Gamliel was curious and asked: “What are those materials?” The philosopher replied, “chaos, void, darkness, water, wind, and the depths.”

    My response would be: The materials were the blank pages of individual torah text.

    Good Elul,

    Rabbi Victor

  13. Eli Feen

    Elul is famous for the month in which we prepare ourselves for the High Holidays and therefore, the month is suffused with a consciousness of preparation. But there is a continuum in the Jewish calendar which has a focus on teshuvah and self-improvement that begins well before Elul. Beginning with the Shabbos before the fast day of the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), memorializing the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, the liturgical calendar for the year prescribes the reading of the Book of Deuteronomy (Sefer Devarim), with each week’s parsha taking us all the way up to the completion of the Torah on Simchas Torah. Interestingly, the first several weekly portions of Sefer Devarim—and this corresponds to the period from the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av through Elul—contain a lot of material in the Torah that focuses explicitly and in detail on themes of faith, teshuvah, sin, punishment, reward, and how our behavior impacts ourselves, those around us, and our nation. As a result, as I have gone through Elul, I have also been inspired by the weekly Torah portion to naturally think about the themes of the month of Elul and the upcoming High Holidays.

    It was this “free association” that occurred to me this past Shabbos, which was the Torah portion of Ki Teitzei. This Torah portion is packed with specific commandments (mitzvos) of the Torah. Some are so famous—like sending away the mother bird before taking its eggs/young. Some not quite so famous—like the law allowing a field worker employed to harvest fruit in someone’s orchard to eat some fruit while s/he is picking fruit. There are also commandments that have become obscure by virtue of their being historically obsolete—such as a commandment about whether converts from certain nations can be accepted into the Jewish people and at what stage of genealogy. The parsha of Ki Teitzei states that someone from Ammon and Moab can never convert to become Jewish. In contrast, an ancient Egyptian who converts to Judaism can marry another convert perhaps, and then their child can do the same, but the grandchild can marry fully within the Jewish people. We no longer recognize the Biblical nation of Egypt, of Edom, of Ammon, of Moab. And as a result, seemingly, the Torah—which is purportedly eternally relevant–describes a commandment that even after the rebuilding of the Temple will no longer apply. What could possibly be the significance for us today? The Torah makes it very, very clear: the cultural and psychological mindset of Ammon and Moab were so objectionable that they could never merit to join the Jewish mission on earth. Really??! And their “crime” was . . . they refused to go out to greet the Israelites with food and water on their journey through the desert.

    A beloved teacher of mine, may his memory be for a blessing, Rabbi Shloma Margolis, zt”l, published many of his Torah thoughts. I would like to share a comment he made about this issue of Ammonites and Moabites vis-à-vis conversion and integration within the Jewish nation. Rabbi Margolis was a Rabbi in Boston at the Chai Odom synagogue of Brookline, Massachusetts for decades. He returned his soul to his Maker some years ago. He was, in his youth in Poland and Lithuania, a student of the famed Novardok yeshiva movement. (He fled Poland for Lithuania after Germany and Russia divided up Poland after its fall before the Nazi and Soviet onslaught in 1939. Then he was arrested by the Soviet police, as a Rabbinical student, and sent to Siberia and then Kazakhstan for several years. When he returned to Poland to see the devastation of the Jewish communities, including members of his own family, he knew what would be his outcome had he not been arrested by the Soviets. He once commented to me that what he thought would be his demise in Siberia turned out to be his personal salvation . . . .)

    Rabbi Margolis notes that the Biblical nations of Ammon and Moab were idol worshippers. And we understand from classical Judaic sources that idol worship represents a terrible sin in the eyes of the Torah. Yet other idol worshipping nations—such as Egypt and Edom—do not lose the opportunity to ultimately join the Jewish nation. It was because of a deliberate hard-heartedness towards travelers which merited for them to forever be distanced from the mission of the Jewish people. So fundamental is the expectation for every human being on earth (not just the Israelite nation!!) to be concerned for the needs of the stranger, the straggler, the traveler who has no resources on which to depend, that its willful disregard will astoundingly distance a person from G-d.

    I wondered whence did this expectation derive? Even if we look at classical Rabbinical Judaism, we don’t see such an expectation listed amongst the famous “7 Noahide commandments” (the prototypical commandments given by G-d to Noah that represents the basic set of commandments given to all of humanity).

    I had one idea to share as an answer to this question, which I guess I considered because Rosh Hashanah is the “birthday of the world”, and that reminded me of the stories of the beginning of humankind. When Cain kills Abel, G-d rhetorically asks him, “Where is your brother Abel?” (Gen. 4:9). And Cain’s response is the infamous, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” G-d’s answer is “What have you done?! The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Tellingly, G-d doesn’t answer Cain’s question as to whether he’s his brother’s keeper. The lack of an “answer” from G-d about this mandates that we cannot excuse ourselves by saying “I don’t know”. And of course we are our “brother’s keeper”! Ammon and Moab by virtue of refusing to provide provisions to the wandering Israelites demonstrate that they don’t consider themselves responsible for their fellow human beings. And that is so egregious, that it represents a refutation of the essence of what it has meant to be human.

    We have had a year in which we saw such suffering—illness, political disruption, economic devastation, the suffering of the earth itself—and I am taking stock of where I fared in my response to all of this. I cannot allow myself to say, “I didn’t know”. I dare not allow myself to succumb to the evil of the seductive rhetorical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

  14. Wendy Berk

    Aryae Post author
    August 20, 2010
    Reb Shlomo

    In Elul the important thing is, I am doing tshuvah for all the gates that were open to me and that I didn’t enter.

    quoted by Reb Sholom Brodt

  15. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    The theme for this week of the Omer Counter countdown to Rosh Hashanah is the New Year for the Animals. Yesterday’s quote is about humanity and the other animals joining together to worship the Creator:

    Adam looked above and below… and saw the creatures/b’riyot that the Holy One had created and Adam began to glorify the name of his Creator and said, “How diverse are Your works, Hashem (Ps. 104:24)”. Adam stood up and was proportioned in the likeness of Elohim (God). The creatures saw Adam and they were afraid, as they thought that Adam created them, and all of them came to bow down. Adam said to them: “You’ve come to bow down to me? Come, I and you, and we will go and clothe in majesty and strength and make rule over us… the One who created us… Adam went and made God rule over Adam first, and all the creatures afterward, and they said together: “Hashem ruled, clothed in splendor (Ps. 93:1)”. ~ Pirkei d’Rebi Eliezer, ch. 11

    Note: New Year for Animals is on the first day of Elul

  16. Wendy Berk

    From Rav DovBer Pinson

    Each month has a letter it is associated with. The letter, yud, is associated with Elul. This quote is from the book, The Month of Elul.

    … In other words, the Yud is the point that expands into manifestation, the small dot of ink, the pure potential that is expressed and articulated in each letter of creation.

    This small point also alludes to the Nekudah Tovah within every ‘letter’ or manifestation in the world, including every experience that we perceive as negative. Through finding that inner point of goodness and expanding it, we can elevate and transform the negativity. This is an indispensable part of Teshuvah. We ourselves- all of our ‘letters’ or manifestations of self- begin with the Yud. Therefore, this primal point of goodness is always within us, even in negative states of thought and activity. We can always return to this point of goodness, since it is the place where our life originates at every moment.

  17. Wendy Berk

    From Aleph

    Rabbi Anne Brenner

    An Elul Beacon

    By Rabbi Anne Brenner
    I spent the first three days of the Jewish month of Elul polishing a lamp that has hung in the upstairs stairwell of my home for eighty years. I thought that the lamp was made out of cast iron, but discovered, after applying a mixture of abrasive compounds and elbow grease, that it was crafted of shiny brass. Only after finishing the project, did I catch the appropriateness of the endeavor. For Elul is traditionally a month for polishing the soul. During this time we search ourselves for blemishes. Then, through the process of Teshuva, we polish and refine ourselves. The culmination of this refinement is the fast of Yom Kippur, from which we hope to emerge as shining and radiant as my restored lamp.

    The word Teshuva, heard so often during the month of Elul and the first ten days of Tishre, is unfortunately translated as “repentance.” Thus the word carries a harshness that can lead us to feel shame about ways we may have “blown it” during the previous year. Teshuva, however, is more about cultivating compassion than about being held in judgment. Legend tells us that Teshuva was created even before the creation of the world. This suggests that built into the structure of the universe is the understanding that mistakes will be made, as well as the consolation that there is always the opportunity to begin again. Teshuva is as constant in our spiritual world as gravity is in our physical world. Judaism provides this “spiritual technology” for continually acknowledging both that “to err is human” and that we can repair our mistakes.

    The first mechanism for this process of renewal (perhaps a more apt translation of the word “Teshuva”) is to cultivate compassion. Compassion is the theme of the chant that we sing over and over during the High Holidays:

    Adonai, Adonai, El Rachum v’Chanun, Eyrech Ahpayim, v’rav Chesed, v’emet,notzr chesed lalalfim, notzey avon, v’peshah, vchatah, v’nakay.

    Adonai, Adonai, The Eternal, is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands of generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and cleaning.

    The Torah teaches that God gave this chant to Moses, following the construction of the golden calf, when God’s rage was so great as to consider the destruction of the Hebrew people. God gave the chant as a protective agent, instructing Moses to use it as a kind of charm should God ever again get that angry with the people. Singing this chant was to insure that God’s attributes of compassion would triumph over God’s attributes of anger and serve as a shield.

    I try to keep this chant going quietly in my head at all times. Setting my idle with these words running almost inaudibly in the background helps me to remember God’s presence and reminds me of the qualities of Holiness I seek to emulate. The volume rises whenever I am angry with myself, feeling that I have missed the mark or could have done better. I appeal to the God-like part of myself to be compassionate and not give over to judgment, anger, or despair. I find that in confronting a mistake or disappointment, it is much more effective to invoke compassion than judgment. I am much more likely to change for the better in an atmosphere of loving and compassionate acceptance than in one where I am made to feel shame.

    Like all of us, in this year of coronavirus, I draw on all of my spiritual resources to see myself through. I remember times in the past that I have used this chant to see myself through other rough times. The chant was especially helpful to me in my work as a Red Cross Mental Health worker following Hurricane Katrina, as I watched the changing phases of the Elul moon through the broken Mississippi pines. I chanted to calm my inner responses of horror as I listened to the harrowing stories of survival shared with me in the aftermath of the storm. The words of comfort and compassion enabled me to soothe myself so that I could be a soothing presence for those who had lived the Katrina nightmare. The chant helped me channel raw anger into productive action as I raged at the ineptitude of public officials who continued to fail to provide adequate resources for relief and recovery in the Gulf coast region. Now it helps to quiet me as I listen in dismay to the distortions of the health care debate by those who would do well to take these words of compassion to heart.

    When I had cancer this chant calmed me. It made it possible for me to shift my primary identification of self as physical being to a sense of myself as a soul. Aided by my understanding of the soul as part of God and therefore eternal, I took instruction from Psalm XX, which says, “Into God’s hands, I place my soul. God is with me, I shall not fear.” This helped me to face the unknown without fear or judgment.

    Now I use this chant in my work as a Psychotherapist and Spiritual Director. I employ it as I listen to people who are being hard on themselves or who are suffering in some way. Listening in stereo, I blend the story they share with the elements of compassion that the chant asserts. Silently humming the sweet words of this chant as I listen to others, I pray that they will find peace, forgiveness, and resilience inside themselves. This is a riff on an aphorism of my New Orleans up- bringing, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Those pesky insects within are more likely to be tamed if a reprimand is sweet rather than acidic. Our High Holiday aspirations for ourselves are more likely realized when we polish our souls with love. My lamp will be hung at the close of Yom Kippur. Having been lovingly scrubbed, it will move downstairs, as if bringing the refined light of above to the lower places in which I live. Hopefully the light that shone above, but was obscured behind the encrustations of tarnish and time will be released to refresh our lives below, beaconing us, during the New Year, to bring light and compassion to each other and into the world.

  18. Aryae Post author

    A passage from Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo, Parshat Re’ei 5780 based on a teaching from Reb Shlomo:

    The holy Baal Shem Tov taught with a parable, that Elul is unlike all year long. All year long if I want to come close to the King, I need to go to the King’s palace … However, in the month of Elul, the King comes out into the field…
    If the whole point of the month is that the King is very accessible during this time, why does the King have to leave the palace? Would it not be sufficient to … simply leave all the gates wide open?…

    Much of what we relate to in life, including many of the very important things in life, [are] to a large extent determined by formality and structure, so much so that if these would be taken away, the relationship would be very nebulous…

    During the month of Elul, Hashem comes out of the palace and is wandering about in the fields. Hashem is asking us if we recognize Him in the field. To be sure, formality and structure are very important in life. But do we also have an intimate relationship with Hashem? Do we recognize Hashem’s reality in our fields?

    This is the ‘avodah’ – service of Elul; to become really close to Hashem, to allow Hashem to enter deeply into our innermost chambers, to invite Him into the deepest recesses of our hearts and souls, to let go of our anger over our life experiences, over our personal and material realities, and instead see that everything that Hashem has given us is good, to hug His blessings and dance with Hashem all the way to Simchat Torah, all the way until Moshiach arrives…. May it be quick and soon in our days! Amen.

  19. Wendy Berk

    From Reb Mimi Feigelson

    After a whole year teaching and learning about finding and returning lost objects of the heart and soul, the King/Queen is “returning again to the field” to bring us back parts of ourselves that we have lost during this pandemic. PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT OR MORE TO REACH OUT AND GREET THE ONE!
    torah from a few years ago that i hold on to:
    When we lose our love for a person that we once indeed loved deeply; when remembering how there was a time where our belief in God, humanity, or a sustaining philosophy that held us are now lost from us; when words of the siddur (prayer book) that once felt like ‘home’ have lost their meaning and significance – in these moments, who is the finder of such losses in our life?
    For Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) the answer is quite obvious – the Ribbono Shel Olam (the Master of the World) – S/He is the finder of such losses. And S/He will hold on to it for us until we are ready to reclaim it and bring it back into our direct possession. We may need time to work through a relationship or a theological challenge. But God’s time is infinite, and as long as we hold on to the desire to return to the plain that we stood on (and then reach out higher and higher), then it is only lost to us, but not to its own existence. And our Creator will hold on to it, in faith, trust and love till we come to claim it.
    I would like to suggest taking Rebbe Nachman’s teaching one step further and bring it one step closer. Can we be this ‘spiritual finder’ for each other? Can we hold on to each other’s greatness and promise, in those moments when one of us has lost their vision? Can we help each other reclaim that which was dear to our heart and soul?
    While journeying through this month of Elul and cleaning out the rooms of our heart and soul, can we designate one corner as a ‘lost and found’ for our dear ones to come and claim that which they have lost, and we in love and faith have been holding on to for them?

  20. Wendy Berk

    Explanation and ritual for the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals, Rosh haShanah la-Behemah on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul

    From Open Siddur Project

    Aharon N. Varady

    Rosh haShanah la-Behemah

    ראש השנה פרק א משנה א
    Seder Moed: Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

    ארבעה ראשי שנים הם.‏
    באחד בניסן ראה השנה למלכים ולרגלים.‏
    באחד באלול ראש השנה למעשר בהמה.
    רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרים, באחד בתשרי.‏
    באחד בתשרי ראש השנה לשנים ולשמטין וליובלות, לנטיעה ולירקות.‏
    באחד בשבט, ראה השנה לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי.
    בית הלל אומרים, בחמשה עשר בו.‏
    There are four Roshei Shanim/New Year days.
    The first of Nisan is the Rosh HaShanah for kings and pilgrimage holidays.
    The first of Elul is the Rosh HaShanah for tithing behemah.
    Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say, “The first of Tishrei.”
    The first of Tishrei is the Rosh HaShanah for years, Shmitah, Yovel, for planting, and for vegetables.
    The first of Shvat is the Rosh HaShanah for [fruit-bearing] trees, according to Beit Shamai.
    Beit Hillel says it is on the fifteenth [of the month of Shvat, Tu biShvat].
    Rosh Ḥodesh Elul, the new moon festival of Elul, also marks one of the four New Year festivals recorded in the Mishnah — the New Years day for mas’ar behemah — the tithing of domesticated animals. Rosh haShanah la-Behemah parallels Rosh Hashanah la-Ilanot (Tu BiShvat), the day for tithing fruit bearing trees — the day on which ribbons were tied around the buds of almond trees indicating which would be its first fruits. These two annual census were essential for upholding the institution of the Temple and the caste of families serving as its priests.
    In the millenia after the Temple’s destruction, Tu biShvat was re-established by Jewish mystics as a special day of tikkun — a day to reflect on and pray for healing our relationship with trees and by extension, the whole of life-nurturing Earth. Similarly, Rosh Ḥodesh Elul begins in earnest a month-long process of teshuvah — an intense tikkun of all of our living relationships, culminating with the New Years Day for the Maasei Bereshit (the works of Creation).[1]

    What a better way to begin a month dedicated to humbling ourselves and repairing our relationships than by reflecting first on our relationship with behemah — the domesticated animals which depend on us for their care and sustenance. The category of behemah includes all animals historically bred by humans as domesticated creatures, both kosher and non-kosher, e.g. cats and cattle, dogs and donkeys, goats, pigs, chicken, and llamas.[2] If we can imagine, empathize, and understand the dependency of behemah in our care, how much better can we realize our relationship with blessed Holy One, and the infinite chain of inter-dependencies uniting all living relationships in reflection of this Oneness.

    Once upon a time when the Temple still stood, the Rosh haShanah la-Behemah celebrated one means by which we elevated and esteemed the special creatures that helped us to live and to work. Just as rabbinic Judaism found new ways to realize our Temple offerings with tefillot — prayers — so too the Rosh haShanah la-Behemah challenges us to realize the holiness of the animals in our care in a time without tithes. The New Years Day for Animals is a challenge to remind and rediscover what our responsibilities are to the animals who depend on us for their welfare. Are we treating them correctly and in accord with the mitsvah of tsa’ar baalei ḥayyim — sensitivity to the suffering of living creatures? Have we studied and understood the depth of ḥesed — lovingkindness — expressed in the breadth of our ancestors teachings concerning the welfare of animals in Torah? Rosh Hashanah La’behemah is the day to reflect on our immediate or mediated relationships with domesticated animals, recognize our personal responsibilities to them, individually and as part of a distinct and holy people, and repair our relationships to the best of our ability.

    Rosh haShanah la-Behemah is a day to reflect on our responsibilities and relationships with behemah and perhaps, by extension ḥayot — non-domesticated or wild animals, as well. In the story of Noaḥ, the activity of humankind was such that the survival of all creatures on Earth were disrupted and ultimately depended directly on Bnei Adam (the children of Adam) for their survival. Today, our massive disruption to the land resources and food web of ḥayot, certainly places a certain onus of responsibility on us — a responsibility we are reminded to heed with the sounding of the horn of a ram, the shofar, on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul.

    There is a longstanding minhag (tradition) to check one’s mezuzot during the month of Elul. Being mindful that we rely on the skins of animals to prepare our mezuzot upon which the Shema is written, is perhaps the first step to becoming sensitive to our relationship with other creatures. Even if we don’t perceive an immediate and personal relationship with non-human animals, we still have a precious and holy connection with them. Reappraising our relationship with these creatures that ultimately depend on us for their care and survival is the first step towards understanding the essential relationship which ensures our own survival, as individuals for the coming year, and as a people on this Earth.

  21. Wendy

    From Rabbi Simon Jacobson

    The Key to Seeing Miracles

    There are two types of miracles in our lives: revealed miracles, and miracles that are dressed up in the garments of nature.

    A revealed miracle is an open miracle. It is a suspension of nature in which the seemingly impossible happened. They are infrequent and obvious.
    A concealed miracle plays itself out through natural means. While a concealed miracle occurs, everything in life seems conventional. You won’t notice it until after it happens. And even then, you need to connect the dots to see the emerging pattern of the miracle.
    Concealed miracles, which manifest through the occurrences of our daily lives, happen far more frequently than revealed miracles. If you want to see miracles in your life, look for concealed miracles.

    Why We Don’t See Concealed Miracles
    We don’t see miracles hidden in nature because without a concerted effort we tend to look at events superficially, on the surface level, without looking deeper. The routines of nature hide the forces that lie beneath. We are living through the here and now, frame by frame, while miracles happen all around us. It is easier to see concealed miracles in retrospect. For example, you could see why losing a job a few years ago became a great blessing. Not seeing concealed miracles is a result of not seeing the forest for the trees; of not having a bird’s eye view of our own lives. When you take a deeper look at the routine events in your life, you can begin to discern the patterns, and see how even a seemingly trivial event becomes the beginning of a miracle. It’s up to us whether the concealment will remain concealed.

    Humility Is The Key to Seeing Miracles
    How can you see what you cannot see? Humility. If you want to see miracles, you cannot think you have it all figured out. You have to acknowledge that there is a power greater than yourself, as well as a realm of activity in the spiritual world that you are not aware of and are not in control of. You have to acknowledge that there is a story behind the story of your ostensible life; that the script of your life is unfolding all the time, and that you are co-creating it with a power greater than yourself.

    Too much ego leaves no room for the unknown and unexpected. In order to be open to seeing how divine providence works in your life, you have to leave a few lines open for your higher power to fill in. You have to know that there are things you do not know. The greatest things can happen when you get out of your own way.

    Another Key to Seeing Miracles Is Awareness
    When we are aware that there is something unfolding that we do not see, we start seeing concealed miracles emerge. As we recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary, we start seeing the larger picture. In all situations in daily life, we look for something to learn. We look for messages from above. We welcome the variables that we didn’t count on. Our answers are there but we mostly miss them because we’re busy with our own ideas and plans. We must pursue awareness of the possibilities that are being sent our way, lest we miss them.

  22. Aryae Post author

    This Elul my teshuvah, and my practice for meeting the King in the Field, has been — during my davening and meditation — to ask for guidance for each day. And with G-d’s grace, each day a thought has appeared which feels just perfect for that day. Here are some of them:

    Practice patience and acceptance. Practice fierce urgency. Practice Tiferet.

    Live and act in the spaciousness of each moment.

    — Where will I meet the King in the Field?
    — Answer: In the Torah min ha-Shamayim (As taught by the Mezritcher Maggid and translated by Reb Zalman, the “Torah from Heaven … the Torah that G-d continues to send down to us.”) Be alert. Be prepared to see and practice Torah min ha-Shamayim everywhere!
    — Wow! That’s a tall order. I don’t know if I’m capable of that.
    — No need to be concerned. If you just prepare to stay awake, to keep your eyes open, you’ll receive all the guidance you need, when you need it.

    Notice Me in everyone you encounter today.

    Each time you’re getting ready to act, each time you’re about to do something, ask yourself, where is this coming from?
    (Is it coming from cravings and impulses, is it coming from mindless habit, is it coming from ego, or is it coming from Heaven?)

  23. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Because the Moon is Covered part 3
    Or: Toward
    The moon is covered, said Zohar, it shines through teshuvah and the sound of the shofar.
    Return that hey, the letter of direction, he said, hey ha-m’gamah. Toward, that’s the word, or to.
    I will turn away from here and toward There,* he said. It’s a matter of turning. Not arrival, journey. Not goal, process. Not sin based, it’s a matter of change.
    Unstuck, said Zohar.
    applied mysticism
    *Rashi on Ex. 3:3

  24. Aryae Post author

    King in the Sea
    Walking along the Coastal Trail one afternoon led me to an amazing cloud of pelicans and sea gulls. As they circled and dove for the anchovies swimming near the surface and their piercing cries echoed over the sea, the energy of their exuberance was overwhelming; their excitement was electric. It was an ultimate party, a true celebration of the King/Queen. Imagine if the way we welcome the King/Queen as humans could be filled with that much excitement and joy!
    King in the Sea

    1. Eli Feen

      Elul is a time to reflect on ourselves, our relationships, our world and come to some understanding of the ways in which we can grow and refine ourselves, our relationships, and our world through this growth. The Jewish concept of “teshuvah” is not a facile understanding of a dynamic of “sin and repentance”. The Hebrew term “teshuvah” literally means “return”, as we know. We have to “return” to ourselves–to the deepest depths of ourselves, our essence, our purpose in the world. None of this can happen without some deep reflection on what we are about, what is the nature of the relationships with those around us, some–ANY–investigation of what the “mission” of the world is, what is the phenomenology of our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, with G-d, the Holy One who is the source of all blessing in the universe.

      Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, in his 18th century epic ethical work The Path of the Just, describes a concept that a person who doesn’t give serious thought and reflection to their character is like the proverbial battle horse running into battle with blinders on . . . the horse only sees what is in front of it. Our physical senses, our “automatic” (=unconscious, instinctive, unthinking, ingrained, unpremeditated, inborn, etc.) psychological and emotional behavior allow us to “see” only what is right in front of us. There is no broader perspective, no view of the goals of our lives with its potential for influence on the here-and-now of our daily experience, no perception of how our past, our previous decisions and actions, those around us brought us to this very moment. Such a path of spiritual and psychological blindness is a path that is regrettably linked to a self-destructive outcome, G-d forbid. Based upon inspiration from the words of Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, of blessed memory, who served as Spiritual Guide for the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Israel [1960s era] in the collection of his talks to the students of the yeshiva Ohr Yechezkel, our mission in Elul is to engage with our “seichel” (שכל) to pervade our life, our mind, our behavior, our meditative moments to ultimately perfuse every aspect of our very being with the direct influence and control of the seichel. (This is a process that takes a lifetime, of course. This also should NOT be interpreted as a process that lacks any emotionality even for a second! But that is beyond what I am trying to convey in this brief expression of my thoughts for Elul.)

      Rav Levenstein further notes that one of the terrible psychological scourges of the natural thinking with which some of us including myself suffer is the excuse we provide ourselves that “I’ll be okay–when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come, I’m just fine. Everything will be okay for me, on the Day of Judgment.” Of course, we DO pray everything will be okay–but we can’t assume that this is just going to happen automatically without any work on our part. The liturgy of Rosh Hashanah in many prayer books includes this prayer to G-d: “Remember us for life, O King who desires life and please inscribe us in the Book of Life for Your Sake O Living G-d!” There is actually another way to parse the Hebrew meaning “Your sake O Living G-d” (למענך אלוקים חיים). “For Your sake O G-d–Life!” The life we should seek is a life that is G-dly, a life dedicated to the pursuit of the spiritual. However, a life dedicated to profoundly narcissistic motivations, a life where selfish motivations drive the use of our talents and energy (the ambition to dominate the world around us to inflate our sense of power, hedonism for its own sake, fulfillment of our own arrogant needs for self-justification and self-importance and on and on and on . . . ) is a life for which we can have no expectation that prayers on its behalf will pierce the Gates of Heaven.

      I pray that I can have my “seichel” penetrate my heart and mind to limit my own artificially inflated sense of self and . . . see more clearly the world around me, its needs, to hear the call sent out to me individually for tikkun olam and return to my inner essence and then go back out from this transformative experience to take up the opportunities to live a G-dly life.

  25. 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

  26. Wendy

    From Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein Teaching of Rav Kook


    “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


  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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

  30. 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?

  31. 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?

  32. Wendy

    From Reb Mimi Feigelson

    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.

  33. 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.


    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.

  34. Wendy

    From Rabbi Simon Jacobson

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

    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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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!

  37. 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

  38. 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.

  39. 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.”
    “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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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! 🙂


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