“The human heart is the tablet on which God writes. Each of us has the word life engraved in our hearts by God’s own hand. Over the course of the year, that engraving comes to be covered with grit. Our sins, our neglect of prayer and Torah study, the very pace at which we live all conspire to blot out the life that still lies written deep within our hearts. On Rosh Hashanah we come before God, having cleansed ourselves as best we can, and ask God to write that word once again, and to seal it up on Yom Kippur, so that the sensation of being truly alive that we experience in these great moments of prayer may not depart from us through the entire year.”
I first encountered these words in the summer before my second year of rabbinic school. The author, Rabbi Arthur Green, exploring the teachings of 19th century Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, highlights the inevitable build-up of grit over time. That we will all accumulate gook and grime over the course of living our lives is simply part of what it means to live in this world, of what it means to be human.
The High Holy Day season invites us to take a step back. Rather than being ashamed of that dust and dirt, the month of Elul, a month designated for spiritual preparation, asks us to take a thoughtful look at the grit that has accumulated in our hearts over the past year. Each year we get to take the dirt that has covered over the “life” written on our hearts and tackle that grime with a washcloth and spray bottle filled with vinegar and cheshbon hanefesh, self-reflection.
This year at Temple Beth El, we are doing an “Elul Experiment,” choosing to take the time given to us by the Jewish calendar to deeply engage in the act of spiritual reflection throughout the month of Elul. We have chosen four themes, one for each week of the month, to reflect on and incorporate into a variety of aspects of Temple Beth El. Together, we will be focusing on Ahava/Love, R’fuah/Healing, Shleimut/Wholeness, and Kehilah/Community.
Not only will we shape our Shabbat services using these themes and include them in some of our programming throughout the month, we are also inviting TBE congregants to reflect on and share the ways in which they have experienced love, healing, wholeness and community. These stories will be posted on our temple blog throughout the month.
We invite you to join us on the journey – take a moment to think about your own answers to some of the questions we will be looking at together as a temple:
When have you felt most loved?
When have you been the healer and when have you been the one being healed?
What does wholeness mean to you?
What does it take to build community?
L’Shana Tova u’Metuka – Toward a Good and Sweet New Year.
We look forward to reflecting with you.