Monday, September 8, 2014

Embracing Elul

And here is the D'var Torah I delivered this past Saturday, September 6, the 11th of Elul 5774: 

Embrace Elul

I’ve never, ever been good with this time of year.

There’s something about the way the weather changes and the smells shift; the vision of children heading off to their first days of a new school year.

There’s something about the transition from the heat-ridden, dog days of August to the steadier, intense pace of September. Summer’s over, fall has turned its head. And here we are, preparing for a new year.

I’ve never been good with this time of year … never in my entire life … and when my mother comes for the High Holidays she can tell you stories about just how excited I was to be going back to school each fall.

I would like to think that it wasn’t just about the overwhelming nervousness with which I approached a new school year, or the anxiety of a new teacher, new classroom, or new expectations.

I’d like to think that at some point, long before I ever articulated a desire to become a rabbi, my body knew that I was supposed to get utsy and unsettled at this time of year. My Jewish soul – my neshama ­– knew long before my intellect did. 

Because this time of year – the Hebrew month of Elul – is a time in which we begin preparing ourselves – mind, body, and soul – for the High Holy Days … that rapidly approaching period of intense retrospection, reflection, and renewal.

Elul is our warm up; our soul stretch … it is our chance to look back before we look forward.

Elul – the month in which we now find ourselves … is a chance for us to take stock of our souls and our choices. And that’s not an easy thing to do. 

And yet … for some of us, that shift is intrinsic and natural. Whether we are intellectually ready for the season … or not … our bodies and our souls are.

The process of teshuvah begins now, in these days leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Teshuvah encourages us to make repairs to our relationships, to ask others to forgive us, and to forgive ourselves for the wrongs we have committed. Teshuvah requires that we turn; that we physically turn to focus our gaze on the past … to look back on a year in which we were not perfect; a year in which we made mistakes.  

It’s a chance for us to think about relationships that are now broken, losses we have incurred, friendships in need of repair … and things we have said that we cannot take back.

And that’s difficult. It is so difficult.

When I look back on the last twelve months of my life I am astounded by what I see … and by what I remember! A year ago I was beginning the rabbinic search process, uncertain of where my husband and I would land. The stress and the tension that placed on us and our new marriage … and our relationships with others … was immense, and it went deep.

As hard as we tried to navigate that process with integrity and kindness, there were moments when the uncertainty of it all got the better of us; when we said things to one another and to our families out of fear and anxiety. 

We are human, after all.

I feel grateful every single day that I was given the opportunity to serve this phenomenal congregation … and we could not be happier settling into a life here in Seattle. And we know our families and all our loved ones back in LA are thrilled for us … and happy to see us happy.

But we know that the road here was not easy … because no road towards change is ever easy.

Looking back on the past twelve months, I see and know and feel the teshuvah that I must do – for my soul, and for my relationships. And … I know NOW that I know things today that I did not know then.

But that’s the beauty of being alive, of being human … isn’t it? Our flawed perfections, our minor tears. The scars and stories we bring to each day help us navigate this bizarre world of impermanence … and help us learn how to hit the “refresh” button and begin again; begin anew.

As we head into these next three weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, I encourage all of us to embrace this month in which we find ourselves; the spiritual warm-up that is Elul. Let us embrace the utziness that may be brewing inside us, pushing us to reflect and let us not be afraid to look back on the path that led us here.

Let us be unafraid to let go of what we hold onto.

There are a number of ways to help guide us in that process:

1.     You could read a book! The one I’m slowly making my way through right now is This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, by Alan Lew. Find yourself immersed in a book that will make you think; that will push you to turn and look back at the past year and, hopefully, think about your place in the universe.

2.     You can make a “teshuvah plan” for yourself and your loved ones, which could take the form of going back through the year and thinking about its various tough moments … and then reaching out to those relationships that could use a little bit of repair.

3.     You can sign up for “Jewels of Elul,” a daily reflection piece penned by an individual … it will go straight to your inbox – sign up at … or Reboot’s 10Q … … or any number of online experiments aimed at reminding us to reflect each day.

4.     You can visit the graves of those on whose shoulders we stand … as Elul is traditionally a time when we visit the graves of our loved ones, whether to pay our respects or ask forgiveness

5.     You can wake up each morning and ask yourself, how do I make today better than yesterday? How can I greet the world with a little more kindness, more compassion? How can I feed my soul and nourish the souls of others?

Finally, you can listen … for the sound of the shofar, audible or internal, calling us to attention, pushing us to act … encouraging us all to begin that difficult process of reflection … so that we may enter 5775 as the people we wish to be. 

Shabbat Shalom.

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