Listen for moment.
Can you hear the shofar?
Be still and take a slow breath – inhaling deeply, exhaling and emptying out.
Can you hear it?
You are being called.
We have just begun the Hebrew month of Elul. It’s the month leading up to Rosh Hashana and the intensive period of Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe. Every morning of this month the shofar is blown and we listen. It’s calling to you, saying – Wake up! Wake up out of fogginess and distraction, out of the running of habits, reactivity, and paying half-hearted attention. Wake up out of all that is stilted and stale, out of all that is self-enclosed, self-absorbed and small.
The sound of the shofar is calling to you – Wake up into the fullness of your life. Don’t squander this incredible gift. Wake up into the goodness and compassion that are, already, your very essence. Shine them through you generously. Wake up into awareness of hurt that you’ve caused and attend to it with honesty, courage and all the kindness and care you can draw upon.
This month is focused on teshuvah. Teshuvah, literally “returning,” is the process of reflecting and taking account of our actions and inactions, our states of mind, heart and soul, and the distance between who we have been, and the most alive, morally aligned, compassionate and brave humans we can be, and then actively returning to our best and most whole selves. Teshuvah is the movement through the landscape of recognition, regret, remorse, repentance and repair into ever-blossoming realignment and renewal. Yes, these are the occupations we are immersed in during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and the ten days of teshuvah between them, but the Yamim Nora’im are not, and cannot be, the beginning of this process. They are its culmination.
We begin now.
The shofar is calling – Wake up!
This is serious business. It takes a great deal of focus and commitment to genuinely engage in the process of teshuvah. At the same time, if we hold it right, if we hold it tenderly, if we remember that none of us is any worse, any more messed up or shameful than any other human, then we can hold at the very centre of our awareness that this is designed to be a joyful, liberating, life-enhancing process! How astounding, how moving and what a relief to know that repair, in some form, is always possible.
Every morning this month, tilt your ear and your heart toward the strong clear blast of the tekiyah – a blast of vitality, joy, energy! Tilt your ear and your heart toward the three broken blasts of the shevarim – sobs, weeping, the sound of brokenness. Tilt your ear and your heart toward the staccato nine blasts of the tru’ah – a rallying cry to action.
Judaism understands that repair and change take time and they require diligent effort. It helps to have a framework of practice. It helps to know that we are doing this together as a community, even as we are each attending to our own pieces of brokenness. It helps to notice how much it matters that we are doing what we can to not add to the suffering in the world but instead, action by action, repair by loving repair, to consciously increase goodness.
Here are some Elul practices to help awaken the Teshuvah process:
*Join me on Zoom for Shofar Tuesdays – Waking Up, Taking Stock, Making Real Change 8am-8:30am. After each session, you can find recordings on our Youtube channel.
*Gather the gifts and goodness of this past year – Make a list of all the goodness you can think of that you received this year, from significant acts of generosity to being the beneficiary of simple graces. Thank people who have been kind to you. Offer daily gratitude for the breath in your lungs, the roof over your head and the thousands of gifts that sustain you each day. Make a list of ways that you were kind, generous, brave and loving.
*Take time to experience your place in the family of all beings – Spend time among tall trees, near water, under stars, visit with butterflies, ants and other creatures. Let it be a direct experience that you are not the centre of things, but a blossoming part of the teeming, mysterious, miraculous whole of Life.
*Reach out to people in your life you have hurt – Offer apologies, listen to people’s hurt, find ways to repair mistakes and harm. Reach out to people who have hurt you. Tell them honestly how their actions or inactions caused you pain so they have the opportunity to acknowledge it, apologize and repair relationship.
*Honour ancestors – If you are able, visit the graves of family members, look at photos of elders, connect with ancestors (by birth or through chosen family and community), honouring those who came before you and let the gifts of who they were guide and support you.
*Enliven tzedek (justice) and tzedakah (generous giving aligned with justice) – Choose one justice issue you want to engage with in new ways. Learn some new content about the issue. Find an organization that is thinking wisely about addressing change in this area. Contribute in some way (time, money, skill).
*Learn one of the High Holyday prayers – In order for High Holyday services to spark real feeling and connection, in order for the ancient words of prayer to touch your heart and affect your life, it takes effort to know them from the inside. Choose one prayer. Read it, explore its metaphors and images. What experience or awareness is it inviting you into? What yearnings is it expressing? Rewrite the prayer in your own words, through the lens of your life and this moment in the world we live in. How can this prayer help you cultivate a heart of wisdom and compassion?
I want to share with you a prayersong that we will be singing together in the DJC Yom Kippur services by Josh Warshawsky. It is called Emet – Truth.
Here are the words:
Emet ata hu rishon Truth! You are first.
Ata hu acharon You are last.
U’miba’aladecha And without you
Ein lanu melekh We have no guide
Ein lanu go’el We have no liberator
U’moshiya. To save us.
May this be a time of renewed energy, of growing clarity, of reflection, honesty and loving repair.