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Our Spiritual Selves - Four Weeks of Elul, Week 4

08/23/2021 12:47:54 PM

Aug23

Dear Friends,

The last half of Elul is upon us. Soon we will be welcoming in the year 5782. Our memories of holidays past are replete with scenes of crowded sanctuaries, dinner tables overflowing with dear friends and family, the piercing sounds of the shofar, the sweet taste of honey cake, melodies and prayers – ancient and new - that stir our souls and encourage us to look inwards as we reflect on what was and what will be.

This year, like last, the memories of past Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days) seem distant as we continue to grapple with the precariousness of this insidious pandemic. It has impacted every aspect of our lives. There’s a Yiddish phrase that states: Der Mentsch tracht un Gott Lacht, which means “People plan and God laughs.” The wisdom in this statement cannot be denied. There have been many times when we have found ourselves anticipating a resolution that seems to be in reach and is suddenly taken from us.

The feelings of uncertainty and disquiet brought on by the ups and downs of COVID-19 can also be compared to our search for spiritual meaning. In Jewish tradition, God is both transcendent and immanent. There are moments when God’s presence appears to be beyond our reach – when we question our faith and find it hard to find holiness in our lives. Simultaneously, there are other times when God’s presence is overwhelming: Standing underneath the Chuppah; holding a newborn child or grandchild; reveling in the beauty of nature; standing in presence of a great work of art; or hearing the Cantor sing an ancient melody that brings us back to our childhoods or directs our hearts heavenward – these moments serve as guideposts along our spiritual path.

As we enter into these last weeks of Elul, I suggest that we might use the uncertainties we face as a springboard for our spiritual searching. While answers to our questions are few and far between, the knowledge that we are not alone in our quest can be quite powerful.

With this awareness in mind, I offer the following questions for the fourth week of Elul that deal with our spiritual selves:

  1. The past 17 months have forced me to question many of the activities, beliefs, and norms that have governed our lives. How have I changed since the pandemic? Do I feel that these changes have brought me closer or more removed from my faith?
  2. With the many disappointments I have faced over the course of the past year, have I found myself blaming God?
  3. When/where was the last time I felt close to God (however I define God)?
  4. How often, during the past year, have I been able to set aside my own needs for something bigger than myself?
  5. Jewish tradition teaches that all of us are created in the Divine Image. When was the last time I looked for holiness in the people that I love the most? 
  6. Since so much of our worship has been vitual this past year, have I been able to connect with my tradition online? What are the benefits and losses I have experienced?
  7. How many times, over the course of this past year, have I taken the time to give thanks for the gift of my life?

Again - these questions are in no way complete. They are designed to help all of us to begin the process of looking deep within ourselves and our souls as we enter the month of Elul. Some of them are repeated from previous years.

We want to hear from you. If you have thoughts, questions or comments about anything, we encourage you to let us know. Feel free to contact any of the Clergy at Temple if you want to explore any of these questions further.

I also encourage you to register to participate in my virtual TENTtalk tomorrow night, August 24, at 7:00 p.m. as we continue this month of Elul together. TENTtalks will also be streamed on our website and on our Facebook page.

May you utilize these and all your questions to help you gain a better understanding of your spiritual selves.

L’Shanah Tovah,
​​​​Rabbi Joseph R. Black 

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782