Elul-2: What Is It About Us?

As the High Holidays approach and we begin our Elul journey of turning to repentance and forgiveness and our future, we are confronted by so many questions that are sparked by the every day cycle of life. At a recent erev Shabbat service we engaged the congregation in a brief discussion about the dichotomy of the visuals that came across the TV screens in just recent days. First there was the parade of neo-Nazis in full dress on a Friday night parading through town, passing the synagogue shouting “Jews will not replace us”. The very visual of hate and anger and fear and divisiveness.
Fast forward a few days and we saw people putting their own lives in danger to help neighbors and strangers in the catastrophe that was Hurricane Harvey. The people rescuing others did not stop and ask if they were Jewish, or Hispanic, or Republican or Democrat. They just knew that these were people in danger who needed help and that is what good people do.
Within the space of just days, we witnessed the poles of behavior that human beings occupy. The reaction by some of the congregants to this issue were broad ranging. The majority of those who chose to answer agreed that “this is who we are, as human beings”. And therein lies a major theme of this time of year for us. Our tradition somehow understood that we humans posses the ability to hate and bring about fear as well as the capacity for deeds of kindness that border on heroic. And these capacities exist side by side in each of us.
Tradition named these the “yetzer tov”, (the good inclination) and the “yetzer ha”ra” (the evil inclination).
They are both within us and they both respond to stimuli from a wide variety of sources; from our family of origin to our social group to media and, as some would say, even from our own genetic make-up. However, the power to control these inclinations rests solely with us. No doubt many rabbis will preach on aspects of this during the coming Holidays. Within this theme is the power for each of us to choose how we will live with our own self and our community. That power of choice rests with us. Part of the turning of Elul is a reminder that Judaism gives us the power to choose. We will see this in the Torah portion “Nitzavim” coming up soon as well as seeing it again in Torah on Yom Kippur. This is the season to re-commit to choosing to follow that path of kindness. Not to do imperils us all.
Rabbi Richard F Address

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