Posts Tagged 'Elul'

The Queen is in the Field: Another Look at Elul

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. 

While I have always loved this idea, I am not sure I ever truly understood this notion of majestic formality. I got a little more insight into this idea when reading a story about Queen Elizabeth II after her passing. On January 27, 2005, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Queen Elizabeth hosted a group of Holocaust survivors in St. James’s Palace in the center of London. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was present and later recounted: “When the time came for her to leave, she stayed. And stayed. One of her attendants said that he had never known her to linger so long after her scheduled departure. She gave each survivor – it was a large group – her focused, unhurried attention. She stood with each until they had finished telling their personal story.”

What does it mean to break royal protocol? It meant that she realized her role was to listen to their stories regardless of where else she was “supposed to be”. It meant that the Queen was in the field. May the memory of Queen Elizabeth II be for a blessing. While none of us should know the pain of those Holocaust Survivors, we should all feel that we have the royal attention during Elul. There should be no protocol when it comes having our stories heard. Shana Tova

Advertisement

Yearly Yearning: Another look at Hunger in Jewish Life

To live as a Jew means that we do not just eat to live. And at the same time, we do not simply live to eat. We have a complicated and nuanced relationship with food. We center Jewish moments around particular foods: from honey dripping on apples on Rosh HaShanah, to the drops of it on our first approach to Jewish text, to salt on the challah on Shabbat, to debating the merits of a hamantaschen vs latkes, our culture is replete with a cornucopia of flavors. We feast to celebrate our survival and success. We fast to remind ourselves of past troubles, purify our inner being and to cement our relationship with God. We bless what we’re going to eat and express gratitude for what we have eaten. Food bonds us to our family, friends and faith.

With the advent of the month of Elul we start our preparations for the High Holidays. Part of our preparation is, not surprisingly, around food. While we might spend some time thinking about the symbolic foods we will have at our Rosh Hashanah table, or the best brisket recipe to use, fasting on Yom Kippur takes center stage. Are we going to decaffeinate to avoid the headache? How hungry will we be? What is the best thing to eat to prepare for the fast? As much as we say, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” we are already thinking, “What will I break the fast with this year?” 

While global poverty, food insecurity and urban deserts are problems that need to be addressed, each of our personal hungers are never fully resolved. The nature of our being means that we are only sated for a limited time. We will always need more. Maybe reading all these words about food are even making you feel a little peckish!

Similar to fear and pain, hunger is an essential warning sign. The sensation of wanting nourishment reminds us of the fragility of our bodies, and our ongoing need for physical sustenance. This feeling helps us live. What about the other things that make us hungry? We crave things beyond just food — be it love, connection, sleep, wisdom or meaning. What are the other yearnings that inspire us and plague us?

The two of us, a rabbi and a psychologist, started to wonder about this broader issue of what are we yearning for. The research has pointed out that many of us identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Many are disappointed in the offerings of traditional religious practice. Many of us are seekers who do not yet know what we are seeking. What do we yearn for? How might Jewish professionals and innovators respond to the needs and hungers of those who are dissatisfied with our traditional offerings?

The prophet Amos reminds us that while we may yearn for food and water, a time is coming when people will hunger for meaning in their lives. (Amos 8:11). Maybe that time is now? We have the opportunity to use this time in Elul to prepare for the High Holidays. And not just getting ready for the physical fast, but we also have the opportunity to open ourselves up and explore our souls. Working through the often closely linked lenses of psychology and Judaism, we drafted a resource to assist Jewish organizations, congregations and any gatherings of Jews in a search for meaning that is relevant both to this time in our history and the Jewish calendar. Please share it with people. We would love your comments and suggestions. We also want to invite you to join in this exploration, please share your yearnings with others in the comments. Maybe our shared yearnings will give added meaning to both our communal and our personal yearly experience of the High Holidays.

*Originally published in eJp with Betsy Stone who is a retired psychologist who consults with camps, synagogues, clergy and Jewish institutions. She is the author of Refuah Shlema, a compilation of her previous eJP articles, recently published by Amazon.

Reap What We Sow: Lesson of Accessibility

I recently saw an amazing video of about a man who despite being late for an job interview stopped to help an old man with his broken car. I have no idea if the story is true or not, but I really enjoyed it. If you want to get into the Holiday spirit I suggest watching this short video:

Jimmy reaped what he sowed. His good deed from earlier in the day turned into a job offer at the end of the day. Jimmy just had to endure the “not knowing” in the middle.

This made me think about the Hasidic idea that during the days of Elul “the King is in the field.” The metaphor follows that 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, these royal surroundings we experience during the High Holidays makes 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.

Once a year, the King leaves the capital to visit the various constituents of the Kingdom. According to the Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Lubavicher 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) Now a King can’t just enter a city unannounced. This explains the shofar. Here in the field the formality is transformed into familiarity. We the common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive personalized blessings. During Elul, with limited effort, the King is accessible. God might even be seen kicking the tires in frustration and need some help.

Starting the Year Right: Lessons from Simchat Torah

Just when you thought that we were finished with the holiday season, there is more. Tonight we celebrate Shmini Atzeret and then on Thursday night we start Simchat Torah. In Israel these two holidays are celebrated on the same day. In many ways Shmini Atzeret is a completion of the Sukkot holiday. But what is Simchat Torah? I have always understood it to be the day that we celebrate the completion of the liturgical reading of the Torah. Why do we start reading the Torah right after Sukkot on Simchat Torah instead of another time like  Rosh HaShanah , the Jewish New Year, or even Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the receiving of the Torah?

Sukkot is a time in which we surround ourselves with nature and bask in our being dependent on God. Even before we get to all of the rich symbols of Sukkot we see that the experience is challenging us to live in an Eden-like environment. I think that Simchat Torah is less about finishing reading the Torah then a perfectly timed re-reading of the Torah. Coming on the heels of Sukkot, a holiday in which we were able to easily achieve the will of God, we read the story of Adam and Eve again. This time, maybe we will have learned the lesson.  Instead of starting off the year with the negative reinforcement of getting kicked out of Eden, we start the year off right dwelling in the Sukkah of God. As we have been saying since the advent of Elul,

One thing I ask of the Lord, that I seek- that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of the Lord and to visit God’s Temple every morning. ( Psalms 27:4)

In this light we see that Shmini Atzeret is a very holy time in which we leave Eden on our own terms. We are not kicked out, instead we leave the Sukkah determined to make the world a better place. We should all be blessed with a year of learning lessons the first time around, giving people we love positive encouragement to succeed, and finding our own ways to make the world a better place.

In the Field – Thank You Camp Directors

According to Hasidic thinking the days of Elul are the time when “the King is in the field.” The metaphor follows that 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, these royal surroundings we experience during the High Holidays makes 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.

jca_C130629-0122 crop

Once a year, the King leaves the capital to visit the various constituents of the Kingdom. According to the Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Lubavicher 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) Now a King can’t just enter a city unannounced. This explains the shofar. Here in the field the formality is transformed into familiarity. We the common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive personalized blessings. During Elul, with limited effort, the King is accessible. We just need to go out and greet the King.

When I try to imagine that space of meeting the King in the field I am transported to rich memories from my youth in nature at camp. Jewish summer camp is an amazing place where many of us had our first experiences of spirituality, community, and personal connections to Jewish life.

In my six years working at the Foundation for Jewish Camp I am consistently amazed by the senior leadership at camp. Each of them in their own way play an incredible role in setting the stage for joyous Judaism in their camp utopia. While most of the year they are running a business called camp, when the time comes to move up to camp they are transformed. You will see many of them walking around their camps picking up trash as if you were in their living rooms. They treat camp as their home and they invite hundreds of people to sleep over. Walking around camp they know everyone’s names, their stories, and how to make personal connections. They decide who stays and who goes. They are responsible for so many lives, but they are not cowering behind their desks. Rather, they are out there on the playing on the baseball field. In the environment of camp the senior leadership is king, but camp is special because they know that their power is making room for others and being accessible. Each camp is creating an environment in which their campers and staff feel that they belong, make a difference, and are part of something bigger then themselves. We all owe the camp leadership a great deal. Thank you. In these moments we can experience the majesty of Elul.

Have a wonderful New Year.

– Reposted from Canteen Blog

Visit Early

I have been hearing from a lot of people that they are surprised that the High Holidays are so early this year. While this is the earliest that the Jewish calendar comes in the Gregorian calendar year, Rosh HaShanah is always the first of Tishrei, the first month of the Hebrew calendar. While this creates a staffing issue for some camps, New Year “starting so early” has created a wonderful educational opportunity.  It is not every summer that we are able to herald the coming of Elul, the 12th month of the Hebrew calendar, while we are still up at camp. With the advent of Elul we start the daily blowing the shofar and reading of L’David Ori (Psalm 27).

According to Hasidic thinking the days of Elul are the time when “the King is in the field.”  The metaphor follows that 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. And even then it may be days or weeks before we are finally allowed to enter. When we do finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. There seems to be a lot of pressure with of the people in line behind you. Since very few of us actually live in the capital city, these royal surroundings we experience during the High Holidays makes 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.

Once a year, the King leaves the capital to visit the various constituents of the Kingdom. According to the Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Lubavicher 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) Now a King can’t just enter a city unannounced. This explains the Shofar. Here in the field the formality is transformed into familiarity. The common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive blessings. During Elul, with limited effort the King is accessible. We just need to go out and greet the King.

Camp is an amazing place where many of us had our first experience of spirituality in nature. If there was only a way we could bring those experiences home with us. This resonates with a message from L’David Ori. There we read:

One thing have I asked 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 graciousness of the Lord, and to visit early in God’s temple.  (Psalms 27:4)

But how might we “dwell in the house of the Lord” all year long? How can we bring camp home with us?

In my five years working at the Foundation for Jewish Camp I have noticed a growing sense of camps working together. There is a reality that camp is camp. And Jewish camp is all about Joyous Judaism. They are not in competition, in reality as they continue to differentiate themselves we as a field are able to reach the broad and diverse needs of our community. Like every other summer, we at the FJC hit the road to see the camps that we work with year round. I have had the joy of experiencing the growth of this field. There is a sense of the significance and sense of common purpose which lends a certain valiance of spirituality to our work. Going from camp to camp we can share with the directors a grand vision of the varieties of expressions of robust Jewish life and how it animates the cultures created in each camp’s community. Each camp is creating an environment in which their campers and staff feel that they belong, make a difference, and are part of something bigger then themselves. In these moments we can experience the mystery, magic, and majesty of Jewish peoplehood.

With the advent of Elul we all have a chance to think about this upcoming year. If you love Jewish camp, want to learn from it, contribute to it, or find a way to connect to that sense of belonging like we did in that field at camp join us this March 23-25, 2014 Leaders Assembly 2014: One Field Moving Forward. Have a wonderful New Year.

– As seen on FJC Blog

The Fields of Av

In Devarim, this week’s Torah portion, we continue with  a recurring theme of the book of Numbers.  There we read:

26 Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God; 27 and you murmured in your tents, and said: Because the Lord hated us, God has brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. ( Deuteronomy 1:26-27)

There is nothing new, the Israelites are complaining. On this Rashi asks how the removal from Egypt could be understood as an expression of hatred. There we read:

It can be compared to a king of flesh and blood who had two sons  and two fields. One of these fields was easy to irrigate and other one was solely dependent on rain water. To the one whom  he loves he gives the field that is easy to irrigate and to the one whom he hates he gives the field which is dependent on rain. The land of Egypt is well irrigated because the Nile rises and waters the fields and the Land of Canaan is one that depends on rain. God took us out of Egypt to give us the Land of Canaan ( Rashi on Deuteronomy 1:27)

The Israelites experienced the exodus from Egypt as its own exile. This echoes the choice that Avraham gave his cousin Lot. There we read:

9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself, I pray of you, from me; if you will take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.’ 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as you go unto Zoar. 11 So Lot chose him all the plain of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed east; and they separated themselves the one from the other.  (Genesis 13:9-11)

Just like Lot before them the Israelites wanted the choice Egyptian style land. In their wandering in the desert they felt dispossessed of the opulence of the land of Egypt. And according to Rashi they felt relegated from the role of the chosen to hated son.

Parshat Devarim is always read the Shabbat Before Tisha B’Av. This is the yearly commemoration of some of the worst tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. If we were to ever feel hated, it would be on Tisha B’Av.This is interesting in the larger context of the flow of the Jewish Calender. This month of Av comes right before Elul which leads into Tishrei. While we are judged by the divine King in Tishrei, in Elul we have a different imagination of the King.

The Baal ShemTov called the days of Elul the days when the King is in the field. To gain an audience with the King during Tishrei we must go through a lengthy procedure. We must travel to the capital city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. And then even when permission is granted is may be days or weeks before we are finally allowed to enter. When we does finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. Not used to the royal surroundings the High Holidays makes us feel out-of-place and by the time we got there we might even have forgotten why we came to seek the audience of the King.

Once a year, the King leaves the capital to visit the various constituents of the Kingdom. Now a King can’t just enter a city unannounced. When the reaches the outskirts of the city the King is to visit, the King’s entourage sets up a camp while a special delegation goes ahead to the city to make preparations for the King’s visit. While they are doing these preparations the King is in the field; relaxed and enjoying the early fall weather. Here formality is transformed into familiarity. Here in the field the common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive blessings. During Elul, the King is in the field and is easily accessible. We need only make the effort to go out and greet the King.

And what does this mean for these fields and the King in this month Av? Is this time that the King is engaged in a war with our enemies? Is the King out there dispossession us his citizens of their choice fields? Is it just a time of reward and punishment?

I think we have to experience the pain and hatred of Tisha B’Av. But, we cannot get stuck there. We need to move past Anti-Semitism to a Jewish contribution to make the world a better place. During Av the King is also in the field, but during this time the King has rolled up the King’s sleeves and is joining us in irrigating the fields. The world is broken and there is a lot of work for us all to do to continue rebuilding the Kingdom.

Loving Elul

With the advent of Elul, we start looking ahead toward the High Holidays or more specifically Yom Kippur. Recently I was struck  by the preponderance of people I know who are getting married this month. It is explained that the bride and broom are judged on their wedding day as if it were Yom Kippur. On the day of their wedding it is customary for them both to fast and for the man to wear a kitel under the huppah. This is the same garment that he wears on Yom Kippur. He dresses up as an angel, white and free from sin.

It seems to me that you could also see it the other way around. That the husband wears the kitel on Yom Kippur in that it reminds him of his wedding day. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is reported to have said, ” On Tisha B’ Av– how could you eat? On Yom Kippur who needs to?”  Tisha B’Av is a day of national tragedy. Eating would separate you from the rest of your nation.  How could you eat? On Yom Kippur you are in love. It is like your wedding day. You are about to create a lasting bond with your life partner. You are so head over heals, how can you imagine eating? While few of us are blessed to be getting married in this season, we all are moving from Elul toward Yom Kippur.  I hope that we all find a way to connect to that love.

This message seems to be encoded in the very spelling of the month of Elul.  Elul is an acronym for the beginning of this quote from Song of Songs:

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי, הָרעֶה בַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים

Ani Ledodi Vdodi Li- I am my beloved’s And my beloved is mine;       He browses among the lilies.(Song of Songs  6:3)

Yom Kippur is coming, but do not think of sin and guilt. Think of standing with your life partner. Love is in the air in Elul.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 240 other subscribers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: