Shabbat Re’eh 5773/ 2 August 2013 – When you were a teenager, did you have an autograph book, hoping and sometimes succeeding in garnering the autograph of someone you deemed worthy of being in that book?
Have you ever been to a “meet and greet” or had a serendipitous brush with fame? You happen to be somewhere and suddenly there’s a famous celebrity there. Do you have the chutzpah to ask for an autograph, or sidle up to him or her and engage in idle banter?
What would you do if you knew that you were about to be in the presence of greatness? Would you be totally star-struck? Or would you take advantage of the moment, and have a real, substantive conversation…
Well, in five days, we enter the month of Elul, the final month of the Jewish year, and it is during the month of Elul that our tradition tells us that the aura of the month is comparable to a sovereign emerging from his or her palace and going out into the field, in full view of the subjects. The intimacy of accessibility allows for a give and take that ordinarily would be considerably more formal.
What kind of a conversation might you have with G-d, the Melech Mal’chei Ha-M’lachim, the Sovereign of Sovereigns of Sovereigns, if you encountered him/her/it in a field? Would you pour out your longings? Fawn with praise? ‘Fess up your shortcomings? Or be dumbstruck, in awe of the Divine presence.
Elul gives us a month-full of days for this kind of intimate Meet-‘n-Greet. It is our prep-time for The Asseret Y’mei T’shuvah, the Ten Days of Returning/Repentance that start with Rosh HaShanah and end with Yom Kippur—the first ten days of the month of Tishrei, which succeeds Elul.
Our tradition, knowing of this Divine accessibility during the month of Elul, suggests that we use the month to make what is called Cheshbon HaNefesh—-Soul accountability. It is the month during which we do some pretty deep introspection and see where we’ve missed the mark. We turn to one another, to family and friends, to coworkers and acquaintances, and deeply, sincerely, apologize for slights or slings-and-arrows. We ask for forgiveness for hurts that we may have afflicted, whether knowingly or un-wittingly…and what’s more, we offer forgiveness to others. (Not always an easy task.)
Some things are easier to forgive than others. This week we learned of the sentencing of Ariel Castro, the man who kidnapped three young women and tortured them for over ten years. One of his victims confronted him and courageously said, “I may forgive you, but I won’t forget you!” She knew that holding on to hate would continue to imprison her, and, in offering her forgiveness, she sensed a new freedom of spirit. Most of our grievances against one another are not nearly so strong, but we can learn from her brave example that one can forgive.
There are some customs during the month of Elul that help us remember our tasks at hand while we keep in our consciousness our proximity to the Divine. In traditional congregations, the shofar is blown after every week-day morning Shacharit service throughout the month. It’s a real wake-up call, reminding us to examine our actions and take action to correct our course.
Tradition also has us add Psalm 27, twice daily…actually throughout Elul and well into Tishrei, through Hoshanah Rabba in Sukkot, to be exact—a daily reminder of the accessibility to G-d during this period.
During the month of Elul, we are encouraged to be more charitable. The giving of Tzedakah is always considered a way to elevate the souls of those departed and to shield against evil decrees. Tzedakah is much more than Whether one believes that or not, the reality is that when one willingly gives, especially without being asked, the Tzedakah giver gains much more on a soul level. That daily Shofar blast also serves to awaken us to our responsibility to one another to engage in “Tikkun Olam b’Malchut Shaddai” – to repairing the world for the sake of heaven.
Whether or not we are good at accounting, the kind of accounting that we are about to undergo in this coming month of Elul, is very personal and absolutely a pre-requisite for being fully ready and present for the Yamim HaNoraim/the Days of Awe, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur…now only little more than a month away. How do we go about this Cheshbon HaNefesh? It’s the T’shuvah Five-Step: Realizing where we’ve missed the mark; confessing our mistakes; forsaking our transgressions; making amends where possible; and resolving not to repeat the offenses. All this is actually done, however, not between us and G-d, but between us and our fellow human beings…the crowd in the field, aware or totally unaware of the proximity of the Sovereign of Sovereigns of Sovereigns. It is this exercise of Cheshbon HaNefesh, accountability of the soul, that gives us full entrée to the Holy One…
In this coming month of Elul, may we each have the strength to look inward and reflect on the actions, words, and deeds of this quickly waning year. May we find the courage to then turn to one another and offer apologies and forgiveness. (Pause to offer an apology to the congregation)
And, then, may we be able to actualize our Meet-‘n-Greet with the Divine. Have you figured out yet what you’d say? Or maybe be satisfied simply with a wholly holy holy autograph…
Rabbi Yocheved Mintz
Congregation P’nai Tikvah