Rosh Chodesh Elul, a new month, an eternally new month. This morning I began to sound the shofar, not merely practicing for “the real deal” on Rosh HaShanah, but beginning the daily call to seriously go over my actions, correct my failures, refine my successes. We call it Tshuvah and are supposed to make it a priority all year, but of course, being human, we often let it slide.
It seems that I’ve been here before, but I know that I never have. Of course I’ve experienced quite a few Rosh Chodesh Eluls, one each year I’ve been alive, but I never before experienced this one. I’ve heard many of the stories numerous times, know the exhortations by heart, am familiar with the feelings of urgency and inadequacy, but also with the feelings of questioning the value of it all. I mean, here I am again, back where I was last year and the year before and the year before that. Have I progressed? Have I changed? Is our world any closer to the שלימות Shleymut, “perfect completion”, that is our goal, our project both personal and communal? Have I learned anything at all? Do the cries of the shofar reveal any new truths this year? Will they with the final Tekiah Gedolah at the end of Yom Kippur?
I also started my twice-daily recitations of לדוד ה′ אורי L’David HaShem Ori, the 27th Psalm, which we begin saying this day and, with it, bind together all the days through the end of the fall holy days, Sh’mini Atzeret at the end of Sukkot. There are so many phrases which are so familiar, as familiar as the voice of the shofar. אַחַת ׀ שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יְהֹוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יְהֹוָה כָּל־יְמֵי חַיַּי, Achat Sh’Alti M’Ayt HaShem Ota Avakesh–Shivti B’veyt HaShem Kol Y’mei Chayai, “One thing, just one thing I ask and beg of God, to dwell in the House of God all of my days.” These words sing themselves.
The poetry is deceptively simple but what do we mean “to dwell in the House of God”? We certainly don’t mean to squeeze ourselves into the Holy Temple, may it soon be rebuilt–especially if we’re not Cohanim, members of the priest caste, who are the only ones allowed in much of its precincts. Rather, the plea is to achieve a 24/7 intimacy with The Creator. Did my almost 100 yearly repetitions of this plea last year and the year before and every Elul, year after year, bring me closer to this goal? Will it this time around?
שְׁמַע־יְהֹוָה קוֹלִי אֶקְרָא וְחָנֵּנִי וַעֲנֵנִי, Sh’ma HaShem, Koli Ekra, V’Chaneyni V’Aneyni, “Listen, God, my voice calls–and grace me and answer me.” I hear my late Rebbe, Rabbi Shloime Twerski zt”l sing those words, his emotion and plea for relationship stark, intense, filled with love and longing. If the holiest person I’ve known felt such longing, felt so far separated, what hope do I have?
כִּי־אָבִי וְאִמִּי עֲזָבוּנִי וַיהֹוָה יַאַסְפֵנִי, Ki Avi v’Imi Azavuni v’HaShem Ya’Asfuni, “Although my father and mother have left me behind, God gathers me in.” No matter how abandoned I might feel, I’m never alone–but, reaffirming this so many times, year after year, have I reached that sense of being always accompanied?
Warming up for the Yomim Noraim, the Days of Awe, but also the days of truly seeing, despair, frustration and fear rush through my emotions. But so does hope. I’ve been here before….. sort of. The person I was has now become the person I am, just as the world at the end of 5773 has become the world looking backwards at 5774 and with hope to 5775.