Thursday, August 24, 2006

You know you're edging on the High Holy Days when ...

So a Jew walks into a CVS around 2 in the morning looking for some eggs (No, it isn't a joke). This Jewess was craving eggs and in addition to some eggs picked up a few Rosh HaShanah cards. Why? Because I actually have people to send them to this year. I've had the month of Elul on my mind all week, but this really smacked me into gear. That, and the insert in the Sept/Oct. issue of Tikkun that will likely serve as a supplement to my routine for Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and all the other minor holidays filled with goodies that swamp the next few months.
Elul begins at sundown and also begins a month of, well, reflection and planning. It is a month where, for the first time, I will read Psalm 27 each morning when I wake in addition to my other morning prayers. Elul is a month where I will think of the phrase Ani l'dodi v'dodi li from the Shir HaShirim -- the roshei tivot (first letters) which spell out ELUL. The phrase translates as, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." This is the essence of what Elul is. Elul turns G-d toward us and us toward G-d, reminding us of the love, strength and support we plead for. Elul also is a time to think of Moshe and his ascent for Adonai to re-inscribe the tablets, which happened on Rosh Chodesh Elul in 2448. Moshe was on the mount for 40 days (Yom Kippur) at which time he gained G-d's forgiveness for the people. How amazing to think that more than 3,000 years ago on this very date Moshe was climbing the mount ... and Moshe managed to achieve Divine mercy and forgiveness. It's a startling, and almost unreal thought.

One rabbi suggested that Elul and teshuvah are meant to return us to the beginning, to allow us to dwell in the place G-d intended for us, to restore us to our original character. In some places, each morning of Elul the shofar will be blown, and Jews will listen with kavannah, or intention. This is what Elul also is about, kavannah -- what is my intention? What is Elul for me?

Sh'ma adonai, qoli eq'ra v'chaneni v'a'aneni. --
Hear Adonai, as I cry with my voice; be gracious and answer me
(Psalm 27: 7, my transliteration/translation).

The thought of not hearing Clarissa blow the shofar this year -- because she is at B'nai Jeshurun in Lincoln and I am here -- is a sobering thought. For two years I got to listen to her mystify the twice-a-year Jews with her talents. But when I think back to listening to Clarissa and the shofar and the bearded man from the balcony with the voice of a young tenor shout each of the shofar calls, I don't think I had kavannah. To be sure, my attention was had, but was I within myself in the place I needed to be?
I read an article in Tikkun about a guy who was at a bookstore in Tennessee when he ran into a college-age kid who was browsing the small Judaica section in a Border's books. He observed that the kid would pick up a book, flip through it and put it back as if he wasn't really looking. The guy walked over to the collegian and they got to talking about what this kid was looking for -- G-d. The collegian said that G-d was missing from so many books. That G-d is almost devoid of meaning in modern Judaism -- in nearly all followings therein. It got me thinking. The one thing I always detested about "religion" was that it lacked rhyme or reason. Things were done because "that's just what we do." You go to church on Sunday because that's what a good Christian does. You daven three times a day, because that's what a good Jew does. You go to confession, becuase, well, that's what a good Catholic does. The WHY gets lost in translation. That's also what drew me so much to Judaism ... the idea of rabbis across centuries arguing things down to the accidental ink blot on a specific Talmudic trachtate. It is, enlightening and brilliant the amount of discussion and argument that goes into Jewish thought. But it feels like we're missing something. G-d?

When rabbinic and Talmudic Judaism was born, G-d almost disappeared from the Jewish map. It makes you wonder of Adonai is sitting idly by, waiting for Jews everywhere to realize that when they left for Summer Vacation, they left good ole' Adonai sitting on the front porch stoop. Many, many years later, there Adonai sits. Waiting. And what are we doing? Well, I'm not sure.

I know what I'm doing. I'm making a concerted effort to "rekindle the flame" as a popular phrase within the Jewish literary circles quips. I carry G-d with me more than I ever did when I was wrestling with organized religion or my fear of life after death. It's almost an unconcious hum in my head, always keeping me at ease. It's the moments when I'm ill at ease that I seem to cry out, truly and deeply, for strength, reciting the words in the Siddur (page 75) that my rabbi and I discussed so often (cannot rebuild a bridge, but can mend a broken heart). I don't want to be a Jew-by-habit, I'm a Jew-by-Choice, who chooses to create a holy bubble where G-d is more than just four letters in the holy books.
So each morning when I rise, I'll rebuild the figure near the bimah and the shofar, the sound it makes calling us to repentence, to focus on heshbon ha'nefesh -- taking stock of oneself, the soul, reflecting and asking for Divine forgiveness. I'll recite the Psalm, calling Adonai to hear my cries, and I will think of Moshe, ascending the mount for the third time on this day in 2448. I will find my kavannah, and I will keep my beloved close, as my beloved keeps me close.