Tag Archives: Elul

The Godliness of Forgiveness- It’s all about me

 

mobiusbraceletHow do I forgive? I am supposed to use the month of Elul to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time of introspection, to reflect on how I can improve in the year to come by looking at where I went astray in the year past. I need to seek forgiveness from God as I bare my soul. But our tradition teaches I cannot ask God for forgiveness until I have sincerely attempted to reconcile with my fellows. It all starts and ends with me.

 Who among us does not deserve an apology from someone who has treated us improperly? But am I ready to welcome that apology if it comes? And if it does not come, am I prepared to reach out and help those who do not know how to ask for forgiveness and how would I do that? It is very hard to rise above my pain and hurt to embrace the humanity in the other.

 And what about those whom I have wronged? Can I find it in myself to be contrite and ask forgiveness from them? Pride and principle often get in the way, blocking what could otherwise be a caring relationship. Even when I sincerely believe I am right, standing on principle creates an impasse. Then I must consider whether it is more important to be right or to be the one who can reach out and embrace someone I care about.

 Finally and very importantly is forgiving myself. I look inside and see my shortcomings, the places where I did not do as I hoped I would, the places where I am shackled by guilt, immobilized by my personal sense of shame or deficiencies. I am the victim of the harshest critic of all, me. What can I do to finally say I am sorry; I forgive me so I can finally begin to heal from my wounds and move forward, not place a bandage over them. Keeping them locked inside only chains me to a past filled with hurt.

 Sins and transgressions are big and small. Whichever they are, my inability to move beyond them and sit in judgment places barriers between us. They estrange me from those I love locking me into a narrow place. If I can move beyond the pain and hurt, however, forgiveness can be a transformative experience. It is quite difficult but when I truly forgive, a great weight is lifted from me. Barriers that once separated fall and I can reunite with those who had become distant whether it is another I love or the child within. If I can temper “din” (judgment) with “rachamim” (mercy), then I am acting in a more Godly, selfless way. And perhaps it is through these acts of human forgiveness I might attain forgiveness from the Eternal One.

 Perhaps the first step on this path is through our traditional MiShebeyrach prayer for healing. May the one who blessed our fathers and our mothers bless those in need of healing with a refuah shlemah, a restoration of completeness. I will speak the words for them and for me too.

 May this be a year of health, wholeness, and healing for us all~

L’Shana Tova!

Elul and Mercury in Retrograde- what happens when Astrology and Judaism collide?

MercuryRetrogradeMercury is in retrograde. From August 30 through September 22, Mercury is moving backward in the sky from our perspective. This is the third of four such occurrences this year according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Astrologers say this event is supposed to mark a time for reflection rather than new action. This is not a time for decision-making. Instead, we are to assess priorities and plan to move forward by reviewing projects and determining where to appropriately focus energy.

 Elul is the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. It is our Jewish time for deep reflection and repentance as we prepare for the High Holidays. For many of us, this is our period of Teshuva, the “return to God” that requires seeking and granting forgiveness as we strive to understand where we went astray and how we can get back on the path of living a meaningful righteous life.

 I’m not suggesting that there is some equivalence between Astrology and Judaism or that the early astrologers were Jews. But I believe that making time to take stock of whom we are is of utmost importance to finding fulfillment. The unexamined life is not worth living, so teaches Socrates in Plato’s Apology. So many of us are consumed by the day-to-day issues of living, sometimes, it is all but impossible to step back and assess where we are and where we are going.

 In life we often awake to find we have been blown off course. Anyone who has ever piloted a plane or a boat knows navigation is an ongoing process of course corrections, so too life. Currents and tides constantly push us off course and our aim has to compensate if we are ever to arrive at our destination. For some of us, we don’t even take the time to determine what our destination might be. For all of us Elul is an appointed time to engage in the process.

 As we approach these High Holidays may you find forgiveness for those who have offended you, be forgiven by those whom you have offended and find your true path of meaning, relationships, and fulfillment.

 L’Shana tova

A Shameless Plug for Gratitude this Labor Day

 A fond childhood memory is the Jerry Lewis Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I could not wait for the telethon to start. I loved watching the show, the many acts, even the cut-aways to Julius LaRosa. Some are expecting me to say the pinnacle was watching Jerry Lewis as MC topped off with his emotional rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. But the real high point for me was the running captions along the bottom of the TV screen. Seeing people’s name with their respective contributions made my heart race. I could not wait to add my name to that wonderful list. I challenged myself to how much I could really give, and somehow I committed to $10, and then sat in front of the screen mesmerized waiting for my name to appear.

 I was caught up in being a part of something so wonderful as curing Muscular Dystrophy. And I believed my money made a difference. I still do. There is so much good to be done and we can be a part of it.

 We are blessed in so many ways that we often take it all for granted. So I am asking that this Labor Day we take the opportunity to remember to count our blessings and share some of what we have with those less fortunate. Giving to something you believe in can make Labor Day even better than the wonderful extended weekend that it is. Take a moment to think of the thing that you want to make better, regardless of what it may be. The only requirement is that you care. Be grateful for all that you have and then give something to another. Write a check or go online and make a donation to something you believe in. When you get that confirmation in your inbox, it will make you feel really good this Labor Day. Take it from the little boy inside.

What does forgiveness look like for me?

What does forgiveness look like for me?

 Many Jews were amazed by the forgiveness offered by the survivors of the Charleston Church massacre. This Christian understanding of forgiveness is an extraordinarily powerful display of love but alien to many Jews. So what does it look like to offer forgiveness to another?

 How many of us carry a hurt and cannot let it go. How many of us feel that someone’s poor treatment of us gives us license to treat them similarly? Or perhaps many of us want to extract a retribution or punishment before we will entertain forgiving another?

 What might we look like if we could find a way to get past the hurt and find a way to repair a broken relationship? Can we set our egos aside or do we need to carry the hurt as a validation?

 I wonder about these questions this Elul due to my particular perspective as a rabbi. As a rabbi, I am someone who has the sacred privilege of serving at funerals. I find it very sad that many people leave things unresolved until it is too late. The pain and the guilt that survives death becomes an even greater burden than the hurt that caused the rift between the two.

 As we prepare for the High Holidays, let us examine our own motives and realize that even when the hurts are real, when we cannot forgive, these hurts become walls separating us from people we care about.

 As we come to the end of the 6th day of Elul,

 Shabbat Shalom

More on Elul

Welcome to Elul- continued

For those using Elul as a time for reflection and preparation leading to the High Holidays, let me suggest Jewels of Elul.

Craig Taubman, an extraordinary artist and musician started JewelsofElul.com. This website shares a daily thought written by another leader/thinker from our community. These are aptly named as the daily thought is usually a gem. Something to think about, ruminate on and uplift your day.

www.JewelsofElul.com it is a few minutes well spent.

And if you like the poetry of the Psalms, take a look at:

Psalms 7,8,9

Welcome to Elul

 The month of Elul precedes the High Holidays.  We use it to prepare for these Days of Awe. It can be a magical time.

 The preparation is the mental and spiritual “getting ready” so that the holidays take on deeper significance. Almost anything we do is done better if we are prepared for it. So how do we prepare?

 Traditionally each day starts with the blowing of the Shofar at the conclusion of morning prayers. The awesome penetrating sound is called a “wake up call” by one of our great sages Maimonides. For those of us without ram’s horns, each day still can have moments where we weave emotions and thoughts, heart and mind, and contemplate who we are. It could be formal learning like reading a Psalm, I will share some ideas going forward. Try Psalm 27 (read it at the end of this essay) or maybe Psalms 4, 5 and 6 if you would like to follow our Hasidic friends tradition. For others a moment in front of the mirror might work.

 A quiet conversation with ourselves might work better for many. Where are we in our life? Is it where we expected? What is our unfinished business and what do we need to do to complete the task? What about our personal relationships? Who do we need to forgive and, at least as important, who needs to forgive us? This introspective process during Elul leads to the “Day of Judgment.”

 The Day of Judgment we know from our childhood stories is a time when the ledger book is opened up in Heaven and the Almighty determines who will live and who will die. But let me offer another interpretation:

 If we are given the gift of life for another year, how will we use it? If life is truly a precious gift, how will we cherish it and make the most out of it? What can we do this year that will permit us to look back upon it and say it was time well spent?

 Let’s spend the time now preparing for an awesome year to come.

Psalm 27 (JPS Translation)

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.

Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.

For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.

And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.

Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.

Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.

Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

A Psalm for Elul- Psalm 27

Tradition asks us to recite Psalm 27 during the month of Elul as we prepare for the High Holidays.

I share the following beautiful translation of the psalm by Rabbi Yael Levy, on Congregation Mishkan Shalom, Philadelphia

 

TO THE BELOVED,

 

THE INFINITE PRESENCE is my light and expanse, whom should I fear?

The Infinite Presence is the strength of my life, what shall I dread?

When forces come close

Seeming to devour me

When narrowness threatens

And opposition attacks

All that is menacing stumbles and falls

 

EVEN AS AN ARMY of mistrust besieges me

My heart does not fear

Even as thoughts and desires rise up against me

I still have trust

 

ONE THING I ASK of the Infinite, One thing I seek

To dwell in the Presence all the days of my life

To awaken to the beauty of each moment as I pass through this world

 

THE INFINITE shelters me as I encounter difficulty and pain

The Infinite holds me close in deep and hidden places

And lifts me high upon a rock. Now I can see through to what is true

And I will offer my gifts of thanks

And I will sing and make music to the Eternal

Please, Infinite One, Listen to my voice, hear my call

 

BE GRACIOUS WITH ME

Answer me

You call to my heart, “Seek my presence”

Your presence I seek

 

Please don’t hide from me

Please don’t let me turn away in anger

I long to serve

You are my help

Do not let me feel abandoned

Do not let me turn away

In You I am safe

For my Mother and father have left me

And it is you who gathers me in

Teach me Your ways. Guide me on the path of integrity

 

THERE IS SO MUCH to lead me astray

Don’t let me give in to all that torments me:

the lies, the illusions, the menacing threats

 

I MUST HAVE FAITH that I can see through all of this

I can see the good, the blessings, the ways of life

 

CULTIVATE HOPE in the Infinite Presence

Let your heart be strong and filled with courage

CULTIVATE HOPE

– Translation by Rabbi Yael Levy

 

 

Ps27