THEME: ACTION, RECTIFICATION – TIKKUN
QUOTE: “Time is reversible, the past can be undone, a wasted life can be restored.”
PSALM 27: G-d-Who-is my-Light
CREATIVE EXPRESSION: Find ways to illustrate and express the theme and what you are learning and experiencing this month.
Psalm 27 is read every day during Elul. Orthodox Jews recite it morning and evening through both Elul and Tishrei, until the close of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). In your journal, write it out in your own hand, also in Hebrew if you are able, and keep it available for easy access.
The psalm reminds us that the Lord is our Light. When we repent, His light dispels any darkness in our lives and the light of His Truth guides our feet into and through the coming year. King David never claims that he is not afraid. Fear is a normal emotional reaction, which could, for example, follow a cancer scare, the loss of a job, a lost child, fear of our own hearts… but when this natural fear is wrapped in the absolute knowledge, da’at, of our God who is good, we are enabled rather to fear [in awe and reverence] the only One who is to be feared. When we do, then Fear becomes a fortress and refuge for us. David feared God and lived in the fortress of His love all the days of his life.
ACTION: REPENTANCE AND RECTIFICATION – TIKKUN
There are forty days between the first day of Elul and Yom Kippur. These correspond biblically with the forty days between 1st Elul, the day Moses saw the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf and broke the first set of tablets carrying the Ten Words or Commandments of God and, after ascending Mount Sinai to intercede and plead for God’s Divine pardon, the day (10th Tishrei) he returned with the second set of tablets.
In response to Moses’ heartbroken and persistent intercession, God forgave the sin of idolatry and the gift of His Word was evidence of His forgiveness. This clear manifestation of Divine pardon has marked these forty days as a time for self-examination and repentance, and for giving and receiving forgiveness.
“The first tangible symbols of justice, the Holy Law of God, are the two stone tablets that bore the words inscribed by “the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18). We only can imagine the depth of emotion Moses experienced when, after being immersed in the wonder of the glory of the Presence of God for forty days and returning with the gift of His precious Word, he was confronted with the ‘carnival’ spectacle of the people idolizing the Golden Calf. He smashed the tablets in all-too-human despair. However, the holiness of the fragments did not disappear when the tablets were broken; they still carried the letters written by God. Although not stated in the text of Deuteronomy 10, Rabbinic literature supposes that they were gathered and placed in honor in the Ark of the Covenant together with the rewritten tablets.
That compelling supposition is a great encouragement. Sometimes we can despair at the brokenness of the sinful world, often evident in our own lives as in that of others, and yet each broken piece is holy. It was created and written on, as it were, by the finger of God and is precious in His sight. Our Father, through the work of His Son and the power of His Spirit of holiness, is actively restoring, regathering and redeeming all the scattered pieces. In all we do, we have the honor and sacred calling to participate with Him in that healing work.”
~ Keren Hannah Pryor, (unpublished series) Ethics Now and Then 7, Avot 1:8
The month of Elul is considered a particular time for repentance and reconciliation with God. The name of the month is a reminder that this season of repentance (teshuvah) and spiritual reflection is not to be a time of morbid introspection or conducted with heaviness. E,l,u,l (aleph, lamed, vav, lamed) is an acronym for the Hebrew verse, Song of Songs 6:3,
Ani le’dodi ve‘dodi li. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.
The month therefore affords us a special opportunity to turn our hearts to God in love. We are reminded that teshuvah, repentance, is a loving gift from our faithful Father. It is, in fact, a supernatural gift – a process that is above the forces of nature. The Creator set the laws of nature in place, day follows night, time marches on, death follows life and penalty follows sin. Teshuvah/repentance, however, demonstrates that the same Creator is able to counteract His laws of nature. As Jewish author Avraham Finkel, in our quote for the month, describes:
Time is reversible, the past can be undone, a wasted life can be restored; “God is close to all who call to Him – to all who call Him with sincerity” (Psalm 145:18).
Teshuvah enables the the Presence of God-Who is-our-Light to enter any areas of darkness in our hearts, to allow purification and illumination – bringing rectification. The Baal Shem Tov  uses a beautiful analogy to explain the concept of repentance:
When you enter a dark room carrying a burning lamp, the darkness vanishes without leaving a trace. So too a baal teshuvah [one who repents and turns to God and His Word] even though until now he lived in the total darkness of sin, when the light of Torah begins to shine in his soul, all the darkness is gone.
Teshuvah takes courage! It requires 5 elements, which, in accord with Maimonides’ view of repentance, I like to call “The Five Fingers of the Hand of Repentance” that we reach out to God.
FAITH – Belief / RECOGNITION – Determination / CONFESSION – Humility /
RESTITUTION – Honesty / RESOLUTION – Resolve
- First one needs FAITH – emunah – even as a mustard seed – to believe that His voice is calling us closer and to have hearts prepared to respond.
2. Then it requires a RECOGNITION of our weaknesses, which takes determination to push aside our natural tendency to justify our every action and to recognize those that are out of line with God’s will.
3. Next, we need to CONFESS the sin or wrongdoing before God and, before the person or persons we have wronged. This requires much swallowing of pride and walking in humility, before God and especially before man.
4. Then we need to make RESTITUTION in whichever way possible for any wrongdoing towards our fellow man. God forgives the sins against Himself but, with honesty, we need to seek forgiveness from and extend forgiveness to one another.
5. Finally, to achieve full RESOLUTION, requires having the resolve to not repeat the sin or wrongdoing when one is in a similar situation or faces the same temptation. When one can achieve this, one has reached wholehearted repentance of the sin.
The physical symbol of this season of Repentance is the Shofar. The first mighty blasts of the Divine Shofar were heard at Mount Sinai, announcing the revelation of the Presence of God to His chosen and redeemed nation. Its call has echoed through the generations ever since, echoing sounds of a shepherd calling his flock home. The Torah portion Nitzavim, which always is read during Elul, carries a Divine promise of the joyful time when the hearts of all Israel will return to God and will yield to His will in loving obedience:
“You will do everything that I am commanding you today; you and your children will repent with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deureronomy 30:2).
On that day the great Shofar of God will sound with a triumphant blast to announce the arrival of the King of kings before whom every individual will stand to give an account of his or her life. The shofar is thus sounded at the morning and evening services every day through Elul in the hope that its stirring blasts will awaken those who are “asleep” in the stupor of sin. The clarion call moves us to repent and turn again to the Almighty, the Shepherd of our souls, to receive the power to break any negative patterns of the past and walk forward in new hope and inspiration.
As we extend forgiveness to others who may have hurt us, and (i) in faith in the love and mercy of our Father God, (ii) recognise the areas in our lives that are not in accord with His will, and (iii) confess any sins and weaknesses, and (iv) make restitution where possible, and (v) resolve to not succumb to the same sin, we can rejoice and rest in the knowledge that we are forgiven and can stand confidently before the “Judge of all flesh” when the shofar resounds on Rosh haShanah, the Day of Trumpets, and on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:24;27). We then can eagerly anticipate another year of devoted service in joyful worship of our God and King, and in partnering with Him in His great work of healing and rectification – Tikkun Olam.
Every individual is a product of his or her past experiences; all of one’s ‘yesterdays.’
One of the greatest gifts of God to His children, along with free will, is the ability to change
– to learn and to grow in character – and to step forward into tomorrow reflecting His image a little more brightly.
~Keren Hannah Pryor, Ethics Now and Then
POEM FOR THE MONTH
You and I
I am not immortal.
Whatever I put off for later
May never be.
Whoever doesn’t know now
That I love them
May never know.
I have killed time.
I have squandered it.
I have lost days…weeks…
As a man of unlimited wealth
Might drop coins on the street
And never look back.
I know now,
that there will be an end,
But there is time
Valuable and precious time
Time to touch,
To warm the child
Who is cold and lonely.
There is time to love.
I promise myself…
I am ready
I am ready to give
I am ready to give and to receive
I am ready to give and to receive love.
The poem was published after Leonard Nimoy’s death in the Blog of a friend, Rabbi John Rosove.
PART OF THE BODY: BRAIN
All my limbs shall declare, “G-d! Who is like You?” (Psalm 35:10)
There is a profound connection between a person’s physical body, one’s outer being, and the spirit, one’s inner being. In reality, as someone described, we are spiritual beings encased in physical bodies. However, how we physically “…live, and move, and have our being,” as Paul mentions in Acts 17:28, and whether it is “in God” or not, has a powerful effect, either positively or negatively, on our spirits and inner being.
The brain, which is the most complex organ in the human body, is what connects the two. The brain is the center of our thought processes and our physical coordination and actions. Together with the spinal cord, it comprises the central nervous system. As the location of one’s mind, we can compare the brain to the central processing unit of an ultra-sophisticated computer. Everything that happens to the body at some point has been processed through the brain. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught, “The mind is the commander-in-chief of the body.” (Likutey Moharan 1.29:7)
While we must never stop learning and growing, we also should have a clear understanding that we will always be Beginners in this life, no matter how much we learn and think we know. We should always yearn and long for further revelation of our great God and His ways and strive for greater spiritual growth and fulfilment. As a result, the body and spirit begin to work together in harmony and we become more conformed to the Image of God in which we were created. As one’s everyday actions become more imbued with holiness, the light of one’s spirit is more reflected in one’s personal life and the glory of God’s presence can shine more brightly in all we do.
How is it possible even to aim for this? We know that it is impossible. As Rebbe Nachman also taught:
Know! There is a light which is higher than [the spirit and soul of man]. This is the Light of the Infinite One. And though the intellect cannot grasp this Light, the racing of the mind nevertheless constantly pursues it. …And know that it is impossible to grasp this Light…except by performing the mitzvoth with joy. (Likutey Moharan 1, 24:12)
To enable us to even to make the attempt, God Himself has provided the tools we need – the revelation of Himself and the teaching in His Word. We need to first know and love Him and then, in faith, learn His ways as expressed in His Word and then walk in obedience to His commandments (mitzvot). Yeshua, who was the Word enfleshed, and whose life illustrated the perfect harmony of spirit and flesh in accord with the Father’s will, was tempted to satisfy his hunger supernaturally after forty days of fasting in the wilderness. He responded: “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4) His Word is the source of true Life; our response is joyful, loving obedience to His commands/mitzvoth.
The Hebrew word mitzvoth, plural of mitzvah, has the root meaning le’tzavot – to command, or to bind. When we perform a mitzvah with joy it binds us closer to our Father in Heaven.
This is our essential mission in life – to overcome the ever-present conflict between the needs and wants of the body and the yearnings of the soul to grow and become the true spiritual being we were created to be. Adam and Eve exchanged what was truly good; life in the garden of Eden – a place of eternal delight in the Presence of God, for the temporal, material life we now endure. We must, b’ezrat HaShem, with our faithful God’s help, aim and purpose to grow spiritually, to better discern between good and evil, and to end our personal exile and return to the Garden and the Presence of God….for that isn His will and the longing of His heart.
~ Keren Hannah
Avraham Yaakov Finkel, The Essence of the Holy Days, Insights from the Jewish Sages, Jason Aronson Inc., New Jersey, London, 1993;
 Israel Baal Shem Tov (1700 – 1760), founder of the Hassidic movement in Eastern Europe.
 Artwork: Orit Martin