Rosh Hodesh Ellul: Turning To or Turning From?

Ellul has arrived. The last month of the Jewish year. Tradition tells us that we are to begin the turning of our souls to the soon to be upon us new year. It is supposed to be a time of reflection, of beginning that turn to the new. This has got me thinking of a bunch of things, many for the first time. Something is different this time.
The summer has not been kind. Surgery, serious illness among many friends and the death of another close friend close to the yarhtzeits of my mom and another close friend. It has been a time that I was almost hesitant to answer the phone, concerned that another piece of bad news was going to delivered. One of the things that has crept into consciousness this summer is that reality of my own aging. Maybe it has been this slow recovery from surgery. Maybe it has been the onsolought of all the news of friends. Maybe it has been the face that is greeting me in the mirror. Maybe it is all of the above…and more!
There is a real sense that this coming High Holidays may be something very different. I am starting to ask myself, what am I turning away from and what do I wish to turn to? Our work with Boomers and the web site constantly shows the trend of our generation to look forward and see this next stage of life as an adventure. But, what the summer has also brought home is the reality of time passing (much too quickly, by the way) and the randomness of life. We just never do know what that phone call will bring. I have seen this summer too many instances of someone’s life changing in the blink of an eye. Unplanned, out of the blue! There is this growing tension that maybe some of you are feeling as well: there is so much I wish to do, and yet I am beginning to fear that I will run of of time. And, it is totally out of my control.
I am hoping that I can learn from the lessons of this summer. To really see in each day a chance for creativity and engagement. To turn to an understanding that delaying the things I wish to do or have an opportunity to do is foolish. I am constantly reminded of the Torah portion we will read very soon as part of the regular cycle and see again on Yom Kippur: parashah “Nitzavim” (Deut. 29.30) in which the concept of choice is so paramount. I hope that I, you, all of us can turn thie Ellul to realize that the choices we will be making in this coming year carry with them powerful consequences. So to that, we affirm the Torah’s charge to “choose life”. It is precious and waits for no one!
Rabbi Richard F Address


  1. Rabbi, your comments resonate with me, as I see myself and my friends (70s and 80s) fade, shrink and sometimes walk a little funny. Anyway. We have an old digital clock radio in our bedroom. The clock function is broken: seconds whiz by on high-speed. On the other side of the bed is a “normal” clock. I get to choose which clock to pay attention to. That is, yes, life is zooming by, with one day following the next with head-spinning speed. But, within each “normal” time day, I can (and try to) “choose life”…choose to do whatever might be the best use of my self hat day. My challenge is to accept that my slowing energy and physical ability mean cramming less into a day than I used to…and, somehow, not feeling “less than.”

  2. You have taken my erratic thoughts and framed them to reflect exactly how I feel. With focus, determination and a little luck, the upcoming New Year will, hopefully, give me the opportunity to make the right choices. If not now, when?

  3. Richard, dear friend, as you age so do I! It saddens me to hear the note of trepidation in your words. This aging thing hits everyone and we must respond with an attitude that is not sad, defeatist but hopeful, expectant.
    Yes we are mandated to choose life. But we also have to understand that life is a changing experience. Each stage has benefits and anxieties, Each stage has challenges, one challenge is always the same: we may not sit back, moan and groan at the escalating years, we must look forward and remember that each stage and age has perks. Focus on the perks. Each new day brings new challenges and gifts.
    Perhaps Each day is the opportunity to share experiences and reach out to the frightened. Those of us willing and able to share and reach out, have a responsibility to role model, encourage and lend a helping hand, the hand of understanding to the “aging” community.
    We must let folks know aging is just another step along the road of life. As our nineties approach we must relearn the experience of accepting help, of taking the hand that reaches out to us. We once again (like in childhood) must learn there are things we can and things we cannot do. The realistic, mature person accepts the boundaries and uses them well.
    Use the wisdom that we have learned as the years flew by, not only to guide others but to help ourselves understand the beauty and the responsibilities that come with age. In every stage of life there is a perk. Think about it: aging has many perks: additional respect; a seat on the bus, given willingly; helping hands, “I will carry your groceries to the car”; less responsibility for others; more responsibility for self. Personally, I am willing to accept blame for the errors i have committed in my lifetime and happy to accept the kudos for the things that I did right!
    I enjoy the aging process, maybe it is because young folks are astonished when they hear “93”; It is also fun, when I say that I live alone, they are sure I cannot fry my own egg in the morning. I have a friend who is 98, she calls to find out how I AM DOING. This aging thing can be fun, sometimes lonely, but most often the astonishment it brings, is really supportive and helpful.

  4. Your message awakens my thoughts of the New Year. Since my son of 43 and my husband of 50 years died, I have frankly dreaded the High Holy Days. I’m ashamed to say, it is as if the holidays were fine as long as everything was okay. But now that I am bereft, it’s hard to get back on the path. Sharing your feelings with me reminds me that none of us just “slide through.” As a friend said to me, “The waves just keep coming.” This year I hope I’ll be up to the challenge, for of course I am grateful for life and must choose life.

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