Elul Meditations: 5779 ~ 2019

Rabbi Stone ShofarIntroduction
The arrival of the Hebrew month of Elul is a reminder that Rosh Hashanah and the month of Tishri is only one month away.

Traditionally this month of Elul serves as a time of reflection, meditation and preparation for the High Holidays. The candlelight Selichot services takes place in the middle of the month (21 Elul, September 21) and offers us the opportunity to reflect as a community.

When I was a Rabbinical student in Jerusalem, we spent the entire month delving into the ancient texts on the Holy Days in all their dimensions. It allowed us to do a “heshbon nefesh”, a deep reflection on our personal lives and our futures.

Elul is a month of spiritual intimacy. This month serves as a time to reflect upon our lives and the lives of our loved ones. It’s customary to read thought provoking stories and quotes during the month.

Throughout September our community weekly emails will include special Elul meditations with the additional readings found on this page. We encourage you to take some time to read the meditations and reflect upon your own life and your family’s life as we approach a new year together!

~ Rabbi Warren Stone

Thoreau’s Sparrow

   ~ Amy Turim

I am powerfully moved by our relationship with the animal world… often a welcome respite from humans!  I see our biological connection with animals as a quality to be cherished and acknowledged with pride. It is from this link with the “lower” beasts that we have instinctive warmth, compassion, and love for each other and the world around us. Whereas the more complex, “advanced” qualities that define us as human beings often seem to be the cruder, meaner, less civilized attributes. This vignette from H.D. Thoreau’s WALDEN has been important to me since I read it in the early 1970s; I am happy to share it. In a single lovely sentence Thoreau provides us with an unmistakable awareness of what he values.

“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.”

Appreciating the Mysterious

   ~ Jessica Bernstein

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” – Albert Einstein
Alan Lightman asks, “What did Einstein mean by ‘the mysterious’? . . . I believe that he meant a sense of awe, a sense that there are things larger than us, that we do not have all the answers at this moment. A sense that we can stand right at the edge between known and unknown and gaze into that cavern and be exhilarated rather than frightened.”
Nature is at the confluence of science and spirituality. Every day we are surrounded by seemingly simple things that are, in fact, awe-inspiring.

The Monk and the Samurai

   ~ Bruce Katz

One day, a huge, war-scarred samurai appeared at the door of a little monk.
“Monk!” he barked in a voice accustomed to instant obedience. “Teach me about heaven and hell!”
The monk looked up at the mighty warrior and replied with utter disdain,
“Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn’t teach you about anything. You’re too stupid. You’re dirty. You’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can’t stand to be in the same room as you.”
Instantly, the samurai became furious. His eyes grew large, his muscles clenched. He shook, red in the face, speechless with rage. Saying nothing, he pulled out his sword and raised it in the air to slay the monk.
Looking straight into the samurai’s eyes, the monk said softly,
“That’s hell.”
The samurai froze, realizing the compassion and courage of the monk — who had risked his life to show him hell! He put down his sword and fell quietly to his knees, filled with gratitude.
The monk said softly,
“And that’s heaven.”

I and We

   ~Bruce Katz

Professor Richard Lowell Rubenstein once wrote:
God is the ocean and we are the waves. In some sense each wave has its moment in which it is distinguishable as a somewhat separate entity. Nevertheless, no wave is entirely distinct from the ocean which is its substantial ground. The waves are surface manifestations of the ocean. Our knowledge of the ocean is largely dependent on the way it manifests itself in waves.
To which Rabbi Lawrence Kushner added: “But you cannot simultaneously be aware that you are the wave and be aware that you’re part of the ocean.” (God Was in this Place and I, I Did Not Know.)
In all things – our lives, relationships, politics, our very existence on the planet – the hardest but most necessary thing to know is that we are always more than an I. We are always parts of a We.

The Creative Moment

   ~Jessica Bernstein

What is the creative moment? Is it, as Alan Lightman describes, “planning?” Lightman compares it to sailing a boat in a strong wind, when the hull of the boat is suddenly lifted out of the water — as if by a giant hand — and resistance disappears. In the creative moment, a sense of time drops away, as do the endless lists, the striving toward accomplishment. The mind is free and flows without constraint. What loosens your mind to enable creativity to flow? Music, working with your hands, swimming, walking in a place of beauty? On Shabbat, give yourself the gift of letting time flow unconstricted, without your list of “shoulds.” Just be.

Blessing Meditation

   ~ Amy Turim

“May I feel safe
May I feel happy
May my body be strong
May my life unfold with ease”Humble hopes, yet the words of this “blessing meditation” are powerful in their clarity. If I want these things for every person, I need to offer safety, share happiness, and be strong for myself and for others.
Above all else, the completeness of who I am is expressed by my compassion and generosity for all beings on earth, and for the earth itself.

Providing Sanctuary

Sanctuary: 1. a place of refuge or safety; 2. a consecrated place; 3. a nature preserve.

What’s your sanctuary? The woods? The ocean? Our sanctuary at the Temple? Do you give yourself the breathing room you need to nurture yourself and others? Take a slow deep breath and release it. Allow your mind to quiet. Think of ways you may have provided sanctuary to another:

  • Listening without judgement
  • Offering a homey and comfortable place to stay
  • Supporting a family member who’s starting over
  • Accepting a friend’s life decisions
  • Adopting an animal that needs a home

Why is offering sanctuary important to you? Now think about how someone offered you sanctuary. How did that affect your life?

Hillel’s Call

   ~ Rabbi Warren Stone

Hillel taught us: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” The month of Elul is a time of reflection and a time to answer Hillel’s poignant call.
   *Now is the time to love ourselves!
   *Now is a time to live beyond ourselves with acts of social justice!
   *Now is the time of renewed beginning!

Losing a Loved One

 ~ Jessica Bernstein

“Losing a loved one, uncertainty about what we are, these are the deprivations that give rise to our worst suffering. We may be idealists, but we need what is tangible. It is by the presence of persons and things that we believe we recognize certainty. . . But the astonishing or unfortunate thing is that these deprivations bring us the cure at the same time that they give rise to pain. Once we have accepted the fact of loss, we understand that the loved one obstructed a whole corner of the possible, pure now as a sky washed by rain. Freedom emerges from weariness. . . Free, we seek anew, enriched by pain. And the perpetual impulse forward always falls back again to gather new strength. The fall is brutal, but we set out again.”
[excerpted from Albert Camus, Youthful Writings, Alfred a Knopf, New York, 1976]Whether mourning recent loss or carrying grief from past,
When that grief begins to loosen its urgent grip at last,
And the smallest specks of light shine through,
How can we then begin anew?