Monday, September 26, 2011
Feeling Very Elul-ish
For how many years did I go through Elul thinking mostly (only) about the Rosh Hashana meals and the guests? I have an old friend who used to ask me, as a chag was coming up, what I was doing to prepare. What new thoughts did I have? What had I learned? How was I different?
I didn't always have a satisfactory answer in the past, but if he were to ask me this year, I would have lots to say. This is our second Elul in Israel and I'm feeling very Elul-ish today.
A different friend introduced me to the music of Yosef Karduner some years ago. One of his songs, Achat Sh'alti (Tehillim 27:4), has never left me. And in Elul, when we say this chapter of Tehillim every day, its message resonates even more powerfully within me. There is only one thing to desire - to be close to Hashem.
Though regrettably, I can't remember the source, a short time ago, I heard an inspiring thought that has also taken up residence within. If the actions we are engaged in bring us closer to God, we should continue them. But if they create or perpetuate distance, we should turn away and do something different.
So I have been trying to do more God-centered things. Instead of reading novels, or reading novels exclusively, I started learning lengthy commentaries on Sifrei Navi'im. More often than not, when I want to read, I'll pick up Me'am Loez. In this way, I've already been though about 1000 pages of Yehoshua and Shoftim and am about to start Shmuel Alef.
I've been saying eight specific chapters of Tehillim most days. These chapters have either been recommended during times of personal and national challenge or have particular significance to me personally. I've always found it hard, hard, hard to connect to God through liturgy. Even though I know a good chunk of tefilla is actually Tehillim, I find that a Sefer Tehillim opens my neshama in a way a siddur just doesn't.
I make the effort to go to shul for Kabbalat Shabbat most weeks. It embarrasses me to admit how desperately disappointed I feel if a certain part of the davening is skipped or sung in an unfamiliar tune that precludes my participation. But when I am there, welcoming Shabbat, singing with my neighbors, I often enter the zone of transcendence, however fleetingly.
I'm not up to anything close to an hour of hitbodedut, though I admire and aspire to such a spiritual practice, but I'm consciously try to talk to God more during the day.
From an increase in the volume of email I get, I know that what I write is being read. That's very gratifying. Although I write largely for myself, I am also privileged to be in a dialogue with some readers. Sometimes they write to tell me how reading about my journey strengthens them. Sometimes they write to ask my opinion about their own aliyah dilemmas. And sometimes they write to tell me I've offended them.
I don't like to hear that I've offended people. It's never my intention. And, especially during Elul, as I try to remember to be kinder to others, knowing that I've made someone upset, however inadvertently, hurts me.
Sometimes I think I should just shut up. Just write cute and uncontroversial "only in Israel" stories and never risk making someone else uncomfortable, angry or offended.
But I know that's not my truth. I constantly remind myself that I have a message. I totally understand why my fervent beliefs are distasteful to some and why they make me an easy target for being called judgmental.
This too is the work of Elul. Should I be quiet and let my fellow Jews, especially the ones I know to be committed to Torah, swirl around in the muck of galut? Does it bring me closer to God to live my life as I choose and to zip my lip regarding the choices others make, however misguided I believe them to be? Or, and this is the horn on which my dilemma always hangs, do I have a responsibility to sound the alarm? To attempt to wake the slumbering souls of those for whom I care, whose lives, whose priorities, are so blinded by the darkness of exile that they lash out at me instead of trying to understand my message?
Even as I debate this internally, I know that I'm not going to shut up. The ringing in my own head is just too loud to ignore. Can I refine my approach? I probably should, though I don't know quite how. Can I cease urging my fellows to awaken from the spiritual indolence of life outside of Israel?
I might just as easily stop breathing.
These thoughts distract me from the other, more mundane work I have to do today. I'm overcome with a visceral feeling, an awareness of my neshama calling attention to itself.
Indeed, I'm feeling very Elul-ish today.
Posted by Rivkah Lambert Adler at 8:20 AM