Playing in the Field

In Hasidic thinking, the days of Elul are a time when “The King is in the field.” Gaining an audience with the King during Tishrei is a whole to-do. We must travel to the capital city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. It may be days or weeks before we are finally allowed to enter. And even then, when we do finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. Lost among the throngs of people, it is hard to imagine it being a deeply personal interaction. Since very few of us actually live in the capital city, the royal surroundings we experience during the High Holidays make us feel out-of-place. By the time we get there, we might have even forgotten why we came to seek the audience of the King in the first place. It hardly seems like a good plan for a meaningful experience.

According to Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe), during Elul “Anyone who desires is granted permission and can approach the King and greet the King. The King received them all pleasantly, and shows a smiling countenance to all” (Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b). The King’s arrival is heralded by the shofar blown throughout Elul. Here in the field, the formality is transformed into familiarity. 

I am reminded of one of my favorite Hassidic stories. A Rebbe is walking and sees a little boy standing by a wall crying. The Rebbe asks the boy why he is crying. The boy replies, “My friends and I were playing hide and seek and I think they forgot about me.” At this point the Rebbe starts crying and the boy asks, why the Rebbe is crying. The Rebbe responds, “Now I understand how God feels.”

Leveling the Playing Fields So Everyone Can Play

People around the world are crying, isolated, anxious, and suffering. We are missing a lightness of being.  Months of social distancing make me fear that we have forgotten how to seek, let alone play. God has been cooped up in the palace for the past 11 months. With the advent of Elul it is time for all of us to come out and play. 

-written for Gabe Miner’s Days of Awww which can be found on instagram or facebook

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