Tonight marks the 25th day of the Jewish month of Elul. The new moon is fast approaching. Soon we will be eating round challah with raisins and dipping apples in honey. About this day, Rabbi Eliezer taught: "The world was created on the twenty-fifth of Elul...This implies that first person was created on Rosh Hashanah."
This midrash comes as part of a Jewish theological thread that places creation and our relationship with the natural world at the center of our spiritual lives. [*wink*wink* more to come about this on Rosh Hashanah...]
In preparation for the birthday of the world and it could be exciting to think about how we might mark the 25th of Elul. This year the 25th of Elul begins tonight. I offer you the modest ritual proposal of my teacher Rabbi Ebn Leader, based on the teachings of the Ben Ish Hai, an Iraqi rabbi:
When setting out candles to mark the arrival of Shabbat, add five candles (or set out a total of five) to signify each of the days of creation that proceeded the emergence of humankind.
Take a moment before or after reciting the blessing over the Sabbath candles to reflect on the wonder of creation, and to recommit to living more consciously as but one part of an amazing and interconnected planet. You are also invited each night leading up to Rosh Hashanah to read one day of creation from Genesis 1.
Praise the light that shines before us, through us, after us. May we have the presence of mind to remember that this planet and all its life precedes us.
Rabbi Ari Lev
P.S. Hot off the press! We have been dreaming up a year's worth of 5778 Kol Tzedek Adult Education. Registration is now open.
I am not sure how many of you know that I think Teshuva is the best thing about Judaism. The sheer brilliance of asserting that transformation and healing are not only possible, but they are an essential source of holiness. Most of the time when we talk about Teshuva, we list the qualities we want to turn away from; the habits we want to quit and the patterns we want to shift. Now some might think this is the work of turning away. But in my experience, real transformation is possible when we turn towards ourselves and our loved ones. This can feel abstract and hard to grasp. And so towards this end, I offer you one of my personal practices for engaging with this work, in the form of a writing prompt from my dear friend Rabbi Jordan Braunig:
"I encourage you to write down names of people you need to be in touch with before this month comes to an end. The list can begin with the people who you owe an apology. Perhaps, there are folks you want to express gratitude towards. Or, others that you’d like to reconnect with before the holidays. Maybe you want to forgive someone or offer an overdue congratulations or tell someone that you miss their presence in your life or that you’re holding on to some hurt.
Once you’ve done that, I encourage you to move names onto your calendar. Will a text suffice? An email? Would it be better to speak on the phone? In person? When and how will you carve out the time to turn inward and from that place turn towards wholeness?
Looking forward to being together tonight at 6:30 pm, with leadership from three trans community members (other than myself!) in honor of the Philly Trans Health Conference.
Happy Elul and Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Ari Lev
P.S. There are so many way to participate in High Holiday services at Kol Tzedek. And it literally takes the community to make it happen. In addition to volunteering, please email me if you want an honor like opening the ark or carrying the Torah or having an Aliyah or sharing a reading. There are easily 100 honors to be had. One for every blast of shofar perhaps. We all deserve to be honored for our work within and beyond the KT Community.
All week I have felt tired. Not just take a nap tired. Tired to the bone. Perhaps more accurately, tired in my heart. Every day seems to hold its own disaster or political mountain to climb. Floods, deportations, white supremacy. Not to mention the challenges we carry personally, divorce, depression, grief, illness. It takes tremendous effort to maintain our own dignity in the midst of so much suffering. This is precisely why shabbat exists, and why I am grateful its time has come.
On this Labor Day weekend, in the midst of Elul, I offer you this vision of rest in five stages that I think captures the essence of the restorative and redemptive powers of shabbat observance. Brought to you by the poet David Whyte:
"Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is the essence of giving and receiving; an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals...
In the first state of rest is the sense of stopping, of giving up on what we are have been doing or how we have been doing. In the second, is the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body's un-coerced and un-bullied self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself. In the third state is a sense of healing and self-forgiveness and of arrival. In the fourth state, deep in the primal exchange of the breath, is the give and the take, the blessing and the being blessed and the ability to delight in both. The fifth stage is a sense of absolute readiness and presence, a delight in and an anticipation of the world and all its forms; a sense of being the meeting itself between the inner and outer, and that receiving and responding occur in one spontaneous moment.
A deep experience of rest is the template of perfection in the human imagination..."
May we all be blessed with ability to pause, come home, heal, forgive, and ultimately delight in this world, which is the true meaning of "Oneg Shabbat." And may trust that deep rest will in fact ready us for the work that lies ahead.
Rabbi Ari Lev