The Hebrew month of Elul has finally arrived (Sept 1). With its arrival, we can sense the beginnings of a change in our communal soul. The is the month that flows into Rosh Hoshonnah and Yom Kippur and Sukkot. The last month of the Hebrew year, and with it, our tradition mandates that we begin to “turn” our souls to the thoughts of the upcoming Holidays. What are we recounting? What have we become in this last year and what do we hope to be in the new one? What has changed and what has remained the same? As we get a little older (and here is a sobering thought, the first wave of Boomers are now knocking on the door of turning 75) this time of year brings with it so many more thoughts and prayers. As the calendar turns, we cannot but help to reflect on “where the time has gone” and “how much time is left?”
Time remains the wild card of life. We cannot help but ask if there still remains a master plan or even a Master Planner for us. Stephen Hawking’s book “Brief Answers To The Big Questions” looked at this time issue and our place in it and if there was some Being/God who was in control. No surprise that he saw no God at all at work in the universe, but, he did write what is really a lovely comment on Deuteronomy 30:19 (I am sure he was not aware of it!!). He was also questioning “meaning” and how we can live on if there was no afterlife. He noted, as does Judaism, that we live on through our influence and our genes and then he wrote: “We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that I am extremely grateful.” (p. 38). Hawking, in his way, celebrates the concept that we have the power to choose what and how we “appreciate” the grand design of life, our life. That is one of the great themes of the Holidays. It is discussed and praised in Nitzavim, one of our Torah readings. No matter what age we are, and especially menaingful at our age, we can “choose” how to appreciate our place in the universe.
But how to begin that phase? How do we approach this stage of life? Let me suggest a note from a recent book by Rabbi Debra Robbins. She was a recent guest on one of our Seekers of Meaning podcasts (see that section on this home page). Rabbi Robbins published “Opening Your Heart With Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice For The Jewish New Year” (CCAR Press). Psalm 27 is a Psalm that is read during this season and Rabbi Robbins offers her unqiue interpretations of the verses of the Psalm. In her discussion on verse 4, she asks about what question could we ask God if we had one question to ask. What would you ask? Knowing that time is flowing and that all around is changing and that we can choose anything, what would that question be? Rabbi Robbins answers with a challenge, I think, a challenge for each of us to think about as this month evolves. She writes: “Now I know my question. If I could ask God something, not for something, the one thing I would ask is: How can I help?” (p. 27)
That choice remains ours to make and the question remains ours to ask.
Rabbi Richard F Address