Elul 5781: We Begin Our Turn, But To What or To Whom?

Photo by Jordan Steranka on Unsplash
Photo by Jordan Steranka on Unsplash

Elul is here. It is the month the leads directly to Rosh Hoshonnah (erev is Sept. 6). It is the month when we are called by tradition to begin our turn of soul and self to the spiritual aspect of our lives. The challenge is to try even to “stay the course”. Few of us, I imagine, thought a year ago that we would still be trying to navigate this pandemic. Even now, congregations are engaged once again in trying to figure out the Holidays. So few of us, when we finished the Holidays last year imagined that we would be back trying to figure out  mask policies, Zoom vs live-stream vs. in person once again. But we are here and we adapt. Despite this reality, the arc of the calendar continues  and we stand just a few weeks away from those Days of Awe.

I will admit that i feel  very different this year. We wish to preach and teach messages of hope, yet, there still seems to be the gnawing feeling that time and circumstances may be conspiring to dampen that hope. As we have written here , time has become ever present and its passage even more profound as we get older. One message that seems to be emerging is that of hope vs possibility. Our prayer language is filled with words of hope. Prayers filled with words of hope, I suggest, are passive. When we examine the possibilities of hope, well then we may change. We have been shown in this Covid world just how much inequity exists still in our world. We pray all the time for justice (see the Torah portion for Shabbat Shoftim ) but what we need to be mindful of is that mere prayer without action may be meaningless. The possibility of change demands our involvement in the world. Hope plus deed equals the possibility of change, progress and a greater possibility of tikun olom.

Now all of that is fine, and no doubt many a High Holiday sermon will look at the need for involvement as a result of the realities unmasked by Covid. But Elul has a much deeper and more personal meaning. True “turning” to the spiritual begins within our own soul. This is much harder than outward action. This work is the work of a lifetime and the Holidays are a yearly reminder that we all have work to do. This pre Holiday month is a way of tradition saying to us that we need to take some time to check in with our own self. In this sense, we are being called. The “call” is a vital part of our tradition. We sometime make the mistake of thinking that the Prophetic call ended with the Bible. Not true. That “call” is all around us.

So here is a hope for us for this month of preparation. Let’s try and listen. Let’s try and quiet the world, its challeenges and troubles for just a while and try to listen to that kol dimmema, the quiet, still voice that calls us every day, the voice inside our self, the voice of our true soul. Listen, and do not fear to hear what may be said. In doing so,, may all of us have the courage to turn our souls and self to a new year of fulfillment, hope and possibility.


Rabbi Richard F. Address


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