In the Month of Elul and Looking to 5782

I always swore I would never write a blog. Who wanted the responsibility of providing content every week? Because once you start, you can’t go back. Well, here I am – what is this weekly eNews message, if not a blog? (This is why Kol Nidre warns us about taking oaths… making promises you can’t keep is NOT a good idea!) 18 months ago, I felt compelled to share messages of support and show how our text and tradition could provide comfort in such uncertain times. A lot has changed in 18 months, but that impetus for writing a message in the eNews still compels me. Although I often get stressed about what I should write, I find that the actual writing forces me to reflect.

Reflection is one of the main themes and goals of the High Holy Days. I was talking with a friend just recently, and I mentioned how it didn’t even feel like the month of Elul. We have spent so much time on edge about how we were going to deliver services, that I forgot to be in the moment of preparation – especially my personal spiritual preparation. I may have lost track of the day, the week, the time… but time still moves forward, with or without my consent. 

In rabbinic legend, Elul is the month in which the world was created. The Torah, and thus the story of creation, begins with the Hebrew letter “beit”. The midrash Genesis Rabbah asks why, and the answer brings insight for this time. 

Why was the world created with the letter beit (for bereishit, “in the beginning”)? Just as the beit is closed on all its sides but open at its front, so you have no permission to ask what is above and below, what is before or what is after, except from the day of Creation forward… Another answer: Why with a beit? Because beit begins bracha, the word for blessing. (Genesis Rabbah 1:10)

This is the month of Elul, and it is time to both be present in this moment and prepare to move forward. Although our spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days includes looking back at the year and our deeds, it is done for the purpose of achieving a better future. Just as the Hebrew letter beit is open in the front of the letter, we can be open to the future, to possibility, to change. Being both present in the now and able to look forward allows us to experience the beit of bracha, the beit of blessing. 

We are experiencing Elul, and we are blessed to be on our way to a New Year.


Kedusha in Unpleasant Times

So much of Judaism is centered around finding kedusha-holiness in the everyday. This is why the Havdalah service is not so simple for me: the separation between Shabbat and the other days of the week cannot represent a separation between the holy and the everyday. I don’t find them to be so separate. There is holiness in the everyday and every-day-ness in the holy.

Sometimes our “everyday” is not so pleasant or routine or mundane or anything except wildly disturbing. Even then, we are called to find the holiness in our experience. In other words, Judaism encourages us to find meaning in all aspects of our lives – the good, bad, and ugly.

The concept of kedusha-holiness surfaced for me as I contemplated our High Holy Days schedule. The schedule that has not yet gone out because it keeps changing. (It will go out soon, I promise, with the caveat that unfortunately, it could still change.) Just as we thought we were getting somewhere with this crazy virus, we get pushed back again. I wasn’t thinking about kedusha in terms of Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur or planning for transformational services… kedusha came to me because I realized that we – I need to find holiness in wearing a mask, or adapting my routine again, or managing being in-person and online at the same time… or peering into a future that may include all of these things for a very long time.

I know it’s there, the kedusha is in this mess somewhere. And when I receive whispers of the holy, or glimpse holiness in people and their actions, or hear holy words being spoken, I feel full, the shalom that is more about being whole than just at peace.

This afternoon, while meeting with someone in my office, I caught sight of a bobcat running in front of the temple with a squirrel captured in its jaws. “A successful bobcat,” I was told by the other person in my office. What an awesome sight of life and death and nature at work. A moment of kedusha.

May we all find kedusha-holiness in all of our varied life experiences, in both the pleasant and not so pleasant moments.