Elul is a month of preparation. It’s a month to continue healing from Av, but mostly it’s about preparing for the Yamim Noraim (ים
Picking up the “awesome” theme from the other day. This morning I got up before dawn and stumbled over to one of the local synagogues to meet up with a few other bleary-eyed Sephardi guys to pray Selichot.
I’ve been doing this since Sunday (my first Selichot service ever – say a Shehechianu, everyone!) although we started at a more reasonable 7am on that day (as well as Monday since it was Labor Day). Yesterday and today, however, was the “real deal” – the groggy and froggy singing that I’ve heard people talking about for a few weeks.
My contribution, it turns out, was to bring “the awesome”, in the form of my two boys (11 and 8 yrs old).
No, they didn’t count toward the minyan, but believe me when I tell you they COUNTED.
Even though they were unfamiliar with the prayers and the tunes (hey, so was I!); even though they spent half the time watching the other guys instead of looking in the Siddur; even though they shuffled their chairs and tapped on the table and fidgeted their way through 45 minutes like any 2 boys would… Even so, their presence had a palpable impact on the group.
The guy blowing shofar blew louder and longer because he saw the wonder reflected in their eyes. During the “round-robin” readings where each person takes turns singing a verse in Hebrew, the men sang just a bit fancier as they watched the boys heads whip around to see how such a sweet voice could come from our wrinkled and stubbly faces.
It was like a Sephardi version of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, the story where Mike and MaryAnn could dig just a little bit better the more people watched them.
Before and after the service, several guys incredulously asked me “how did you get them to leave their bed and come?”.
“We get hot chocolate!” they announced, holding up their mugs.
It was a trick I had heard about last year while we were in Israel – synagogues making a community event out of Selichot, waking up together, serving pastries, tea (and yes, hot chocolate) so that rather than struggle through a month of obligation, people looked eagerly forward to (and then wistfully back at) the month of Elul.
In the original “awesome” post, Redefining Girlie asked:
There was a time when you were five years old,and you woke up full of awesome.[…]Do you still have it?The awesome.
On Wednesday (Sept 14) Rabbi David Wolpe posted on his Facebook wall:
“American writer Sherwood Anderson was the manager of a small paint factory in Elyria, Ohio. One day, in the very middle of a sentence he was dictating, he walked out of the factory to devote himself to literature. Anderson was forty-five. The mysteries of human nature are endless. Resh Lakish was a robber who became a Rabbi; David a shepherd who became a king. To listen to a voice inside for change inside is a risk. But is ignoring the voice truly safe?”
It got me thinking about the “still small voice” that represents such terrifying (to me, at least) change in people’s life. I am certain it was this same voice which Abram heard sending him and his wife Sarai away from all they knew into the wilderness. It was the voice that told Rebeccah to water that strange man’s camels. It was the voice that called out and stopped Moses in his tracks as he was busy chasing down a wayward lamb.
I remember being both fascinated and horrified when I read the liner notes to Bobby McFerrin‘s second album “The Voice”:
“On July 11, 1977, I distinctly heard a voice inside my mind telling me to be a singer. Soon I began to envision myself on stage, singing, even though I couldn’t hear what I sounded like. […] So, somehow I just naturally began to sing alone and developed my technique out of necessity – exploring ways to produce the sounds I was hearing in my mind.”
I was fascinated because it was a modern-day version of Abraham’s story, moving away from the familiar into the unknown, with only the vaguest notion of where one will end up.
I was horrified, because that could happen to me. In an instant I might hear a voice that would send my life careening off track and who knows where it would end.
I am, you might say, just a little bit risk-averse.
“I gave my first solo voice concert [in 1983] in Ashland Oregon. I winged my way through those two hours, and […] improvisation still gives me the greatest challenge and the greatest pleasure. I never know from moment to moment where I’ll end up, and sometimes I’m scared to death. Yet, with all the risks, being on the edge is always the most fulfilling place to be,”
What about you? Would you welcome the voice of change or fear it? Have it already spoken to you? What did it say? What did you do?
Here in the month of Elul, as we prepare to stand before God and accept judgement – we open ourselves to the Voice and can only tremble – some in anticipation, some in fear, but all with the hope that we are equal to the task demanded of us.
(originally posted on The EdibleTorah)
Yesterday I posted about viewing ourselves as awesome, and how many of us don’t – possibly because of our belief that it’s not humble.
I think, in this month of Elul, we should re-examine what is “humble”. Because Elul is (as I understand it) all about honesty and clarity in our self-examination.
It doesn’t do any good to gloss over our faults. Equally, it doesn’t do any good to hide our successes under false modesty.
Being humble does not mean never admitting we did anything right. It would be frustrating to teach someone a skill, and see them execute it perfectly, only to have them invent reasons why they did it wrong. At best, your excitement would turn to pity at their low self-esteem. At worst, your excitement would turn to apathy in the face of insincere humility.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly want God to feel either way about me. I want God to be cheering me along and to share in the inner radiance we feel when we are successful. After all, God put that there too, right?
Which brings me to another of my favorite quotes:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Marianne Williamson
It’s a traditional practice to read Psalm 27 each day during the month of Elul. Once that may have meant reading the same words the same way as every other Jew. Now, we have a plethora of translations and interpretations to choose from along with the original Hebrew. To really bring this practice to life, try using four different translations/interpretations and speak the words aloud each day. Each week use a different one, and record your thoughts and feelings each day to see how your response changes to each daily, and over the course of the month. Even if Shacharit (morning prayers) aren’t currently part of your spiritual practice, give this a try for the month.
Questions to think about:
Carly Lesser (a.k.a. Ketzirah – קצירה
) is Kohenet, Celebrant and Artist whose passion is helping Jews who are unaffiliated, earth-based or in interfaith / inter-denominational relationships connect more deeply with Judaism and make it relevant in their every day lives. She is an active blogger and prayer leader on OneShul.org and PeelaPom.com.