Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Elul Tools - 29 Elul 5777

Elul Tools  

Building a Strong Foundation 
for the Days of Awe

Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

Shofar call us home.
Spiraling back to the source.
We're back. Teshuvah. 

29 Elul - Teshuvah, Coming Home

Today is the last day of Elul. Tonight at sundown, with the new moon of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, we start the New Year 5778. The Shofar has awakened us from routines and habits we have fallen into over the past year. The ancient call of the ram’s horn is a tap on the shoulder, an urging to take some time to pull ourselves together for the approaching year.

We spent the past month reflecting on the kind of person we were in 5777. We gave serious thought to how we want to change and “upgrade” ourselves to the latest and best version of ourselves. We have journeyed inward, asking ourselves difficult questions. We have worked toward making amends, repairing small corners of the world. This beautiful annual cycle of return is what’s known in Judaism as Teshuvah.

During the Hebrew month of Elul, we have paused the ever increasing outward spiral of our lives and slowly made our way back to the center, the essence of who we are. The Yamim Nora'im (Days of Awe) are designed as an annual reminder to come back to the heart of what it means for us to be human, to be alive. Of course we stray from the center, pretty much as soon as the High Holidays are over. We can’t, and shouldn’t, remain in a perpetual state of prayer and unity. We are people after all, and our purpose is to experience the world, relationships, work, recreation, hardship, challenge. However, we need a mechanism for return, Teshuvah, lest we lose ourselves completely in the details and multiplicity of life. The round spiral design of the Challah we eat during the High Holidays symbolizes this yearly quest to realign with our truest, most authentic selves.

As we discovered at the beginning of Elul, even the Shofar sings the song of return to us. We start with one unified note, which over time becomes broken and fractured into separate and distinct notes. As the Yamim Nora'im approach, we begin the voyage back to the source, back to oneness. Our final experience on Yom Kippur is to hear the final shofar blast, Tekiyah Gedolah. This one very long note is the exuberant cry of unity. At last we have made the full return to the Eternal One, to ourselves, to all that is. We try to carry this note as long as we can before beginning again--the inevitable outward spiral outward, toward family and friends, work and community, joys and sorrows.

Our Sages remind us that the process of Teshuvah is available to us all year long. However, the gift of the High Holidays is the opportunity to do this work together as a community. During the course of the year, when we get off track, we can always count on Elul, The Days of Awe, and the mysterious melodies of the Shofar to bring us back, at least once a year. Of course it’s always a good thing to repair relationships, clean up messes, give back to our communities and take care of the world all year long. We don’t have to wait for Elul. As the weeks and months roll on in 5778, we will begin to feel ourselves scattered, fragmented, turning down the wrong roads. When our lives begin to have that staccato feel of the Teruah call of the Shofar (9 quick blasts), we can always revisit the process of repair Elul has to offer us. We don’t have to wait for the calendar date to arrive. Small repairs and early course corrections during the year make the process of Chesbon Hanefesh (accounting of the soul) less daunting and arduous when Elul rolls again.

Today’s Elul Tool: Listen to the audiofile of the Shofar one last time for Elul (provided at the top of the post). The link for this is at the top of the page. Pay attention to the distinct notes. Can you hear the process of return? Just like we spiral inward as we approach Yom Kippur and outward as we journey through our year, the notes of the shofar mirror this process. Even the shape of the Shofar hints at turning, coming back. This is your ancient alarm clock. This is how the Jewish people have been calling to each other, calling to ourselves, calling for attention. It’s the shout out of Teshuvah.

It is customary to read Psalm 27 twice daily during Elul. 
I've provided this online version of Psalm 27 for easy access.

May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!

For Families and Kids!

Junior Tool Box:

• Teach your children the words for apples and honey in Hebrew.

apple = tapuach ( “ch” pronounced with guttural throat sound )
apples  = tapuchim  ( “ch” pronounced with guttural throat sound)
honey = d’vash (blend the d and v sounds)

• Listen to the Tapuchim Ud’Vash song by clicking on the link below. This traditional children’s song was sent out earlier in English (Apples Dipped in Honey). This version is sung in Hebrew first, then English, with the final verse being being sung in both Hebrew and English at the same time! The words in Hebrew are below:


Tapuchim Ud’vash
L’Rosh Hashanah (2x)

Shanah Tovah,

Shanah M’tuka (2x)

Tapuchim Ud’vash

L’Rosh Hashanah

• Depending on how you plan to observe the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, begin to prepare your children. For example, if you are attending synagogue, preview what will happen. Practice the New Year’s greetings.  If your children will be missing school, let your school know it is for Jewish holidays.  Let your children know that school is important and valuable, but that honoring Jewish tradition and heritage is also very important.  If staying home, plan your own rituals.

• Read any Jewish books you have related to the holidays.

• Draw pictures with High Holiday symbols.

• Download High Holiday coloring sheets and games.  There are many resources for this online.  Type High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Kippur coloring sheets and see what suits your family best!

• Do the Time Capsule  Activity below. Print out, fill out, and store away for the year!  A fun way to store them is in a decorated paper towel tube!  Don’t forget where you put it!

Rosh Hashanah Time Capsule

Don’t Open Until Rosh Hashanah 5779!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today I am __________  years old. I am __________ inches tall.  

I weigh __________ pounds.

Here are some of the things I learned to do this past year:

These are the things I love learning about:

These are ways I enjoy playing:

My favorite books are:

My favorite color is:

My favorite foods are:

My friends are:

Something I want to work on to be a better person is:

Some goals I have for the new year are:

My Predictions for 5778

I will grow __________ inches.

I will know how to...

My favorite color will be the same.        

Yes      No

I will try some different foods.        

Yes      No

I will meet new friends.        

Yes      No

I will travel to

New ways I will help out in my family are                                              

Any other predictions for the New Year?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Elul Tools - 28 Elul 5777

Elul Tools  

Building a Strong Foundation 
for the Days of Awe

Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

Fractured, we unite.
Merging, even if only 
for a little while.  

28 Elul - Getting at the Heart of Atonement

Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, is commonly referred to as the “Day of Atonement” (yom meaning day and kippur meaning atonement). The month of Elul, followed by the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are the lead up for this day of non-stop prayer, fasting, reflection, and meditation.

You may have heard this special day referred to as the Day of “At-One-Ment.” While this may have a simplistic, New Age ring to it, that’s really what it’s all about. On this one day of the year, we align, completely, with the Holy One. We want to be so present and so available to the renewal this day has to offer that we forgo many of the usual, daily routines of life (working, eating, drinking, bathing, intimacy, chatting, hanging out). We fast because we want to achieve a place of emptiness, in order to be filled anew. Additionally, the act of preparing and eating food is a distraction from the focus of the day.

We have thought a lot about the word Teshuvah which means both repentance and return. Coming back to us. Coming back, if even only for a day, to our essential nature, to God. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, of blessed memory, metaphorically refers to this as acquiring our “New God Interface.” He explains that during the year, our operating system gets sluggish. After awhile, daily living clogs the filters. Our systems slow down, having acquired too much extraneous and inefficient data. Keeping with Reb Zalman's metaphor, the Days of Awe allow us to run diagnostic software, perform upgrades. The goal is to get our internal hard-drives functioning at their highest level again. With a completely upgraded system we charge forth into the new year as a finer version. Of course this version will be outdated too in a year’s time.

The definition of the word atone is to reconcile, to be in harmony, to make amends. Keep in mind that on Yom Kippur we are reconciling and making amends with God as we ideally have cleaned up all our messes with others already. When we do this with God, we come back into balance. Our relationship is calibrated. We are in harmony with the Divine energy of the universe. So in essence we truly are in a state of at-one-ment.

Consider the word reconcile, like bringing our checkbook into balance. When the statement balances out, there is a feeling of peace and perfection. Everything lined up and worked loose ends. Yom Kippur is much like balancing our accounts with God.

One last thought about At-One-Ment. This is a little far out, but is a traditional concept in contemplating the unity we seek on Yom Kippur. Consider the oneness, unity shared by lovers. There is a beautiful poetic phrase from the Song of Songs, usually recited at weddings and inscribed on the Ketubah (Jewish Wedding Contract): I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine. The image invoked is that of complete unification. In Hebrew the phrase is: Ani l'dodi, v'dodi li.

Our sages have decoded the fact that the Hebrew letters in the word Elul (alef, lamed, vav, lamed) are an acronym for this phrase in Hebrew. The image here to the right depicts this coded connection. During Elul we move ever closer to our beloved and our beloved to us. On Yom Kippur, we meet and attain a true sense of At One Ment...

Today’s Elul Tool:  Think about Atonement and At-One-Ment. Reflect on Echad (Hebrew for one). Consider all the different images for achieving oneness (harmony, balance, unification, the computer metaphors of the New God Interface, the accounting metaphor of reconciling, the image of lovers united). Which of these resonate with your own ideas for attaining Atonement. Begin to integrate this image, this idea into your mind and soul as you approach these transformative Days of Awe. If it helps, consider the image of the Alef (above, left) which is the first letter of the Hebrew alef-bet, with the numerical value of one. Can you see ideas of harmony, balance, or unity in this symbol?

It is customary to read Psalm 27 twice daily during Elul.

Here is an online version of Psalm 27 for easy access. 

For Families and Kids!

Junior Tool Box:

Discuss the ideas of Atonement and Oneness with your children. What are ways we feel connected to others, to ourselves, to God? Some ideas may be to talk about how we feel in nature, how we feel when we perform kind acts, when we sing Jewish songs and say Hebrew blessings, how we feel in the warm embrace of our families.

Explain how in Hebrew, every letter of the Alef-Bet has a numerical value. The first letter of the Alef-Bet is Alef and represents the number One. Discuss the symbol of the Alef and find ways that it represents oneness, balance, unity, and harmony. Remind children that this is a nice symbol to think about when they feel lonely, anxious, or frightened. It can remind us that we all are connected, we all are one. We touched on this idea a couple of weeks ago, but now begin to connect the idea of Oneness with Yom Kippur. Bonus:  Can you find something in the Alef that looks like a shofar?

Have an apple and honey tasting. Purchase different types of apple and honey and take a family survey on which everyone likes best!

Can you see the shofar in the sky???

Elul Tools - 27 5777

Elul Tools 

Building a Strong Foundation 
for the Days of Awe


Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

I really want that!
What should I do to get it?
Maybe give up this!

27 Elul - Create Intention, Make a Plan...

Yesterday we made a concrete goal for 5778. In order to get there though, we should have a plan. Otherwise we run the risk of floating around with our good idea in our head, but never really manifesting it in our lives. By actually constructing a plan, we are setting an intention for reaching our destination.

In Judaism the term Kavannah speaks to this type of intentionality. The goal we set for 5778 undoubtedly stems from a desire of the heart. But without the clear planning abilities of the mind, we may not achieve it. Additionally we have to throw in some Ruach (spirit or passion) and Chutzpah (courage, gutsiness) to make it all happen. Aligning all of these things creates authentic focus. This is exactly what our Sages impress upon us about reaching a state of Kavannah.

The word Kavannah is often reserved for Jewish prayer. Our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls must be precisely aligned to achieve divine union with God. This is a difficult task. We are humans and scattered in all sorts of ways. Sometimes our bodies are present but our mind is wandering. Other times mind and body are ready, but our hearts are aching. Kavannah is the place where it all comes together and we achieve, even if only fleetingly, oneness.

It’s possible to apply this idea of Kavannah to our heart felt goal for the new year. Whatever our target is for 5778, we  can think of it as a holy intention to produce positive change. We can treat it as a prayer to God and to ourselves. To achieve “oneness with our goal” we have to get ourselves into the proper alignment, the appropriate Kavannah.

Ushering in new behavior and change is very difficult. We are habituated creatures seeking comfort and respite whenever we can. Creating meaningful, positive change that will last, undoubtedly includes making a sacrifice. We have to pinpoint those sacrifices and ask ourselves if it’s really worth it. We have to assess if it's actually attainable. If we want a particular result, a particular change to be manifested by Rosh Hashanah 5779, (just about one year from now) it’s time to make uncomfortable changes and give up some things to which we are accustomed.

A quick diversion. When making challah for Shabbat, it is customary to pull off one small section of the dough and recite a special prayer. The small piece of dough turns into a crisp, hard, black ball as it bakes alongside the golden challah loaves. Why? Originally “challah” referred not to the loaf but to this small piece of dough that was set aside for the Kohen (priest) when making bread. In modern times we separate, bless, and burn a small piece of dough when making bread in remembrance of the portion given to God. It’s a small sacrifice we make to remind us that sustenance ultimately comes from God. In this way we can transform the baking of bread into a spiritual act.

So to, we can make our goal setting a spiritual act. Our goal for the new year is like a beautiful golden challah. It’s a change, ambition, or pursuit that will provide us with sustenance and pleasure in the year ahead. We can elevate our setting of this goal to a holy act by aligning all the different parts of ourselves to attain it. Kavannah. Yes, we will need to make some sacrifices. We will need to separate out our symbolic piece of dough and offer it up to God.

Today’s Elul Tool:  Getting to where you want to be next year requires some forethought. It’s a bit like following a map to get to the “treasure chest.” To help you find your treasure, consider these questions regarding your goal for 5778. They are inter-related. It may help to answer all three, or perhaps just stick to one. By aligning your mind with heart, body, and soul, you are creating a Kavannah for manifesting what you want. The treasure is there and in sight, but what is the path for getting there. What are the steps you must take? Write this down. Make it real.

My Goal for 5778 is:

To achieve my goal for 5778, I need to...

Stop doing:

Start doing:


Psalm 27

It is customary to read Psalm 27 twice daily during Elul.
Here is an online version of Psalm 27 for easy access. 

For Families and Kids!

Junior Tool Box: 
As a family, talk about how changing and growing require us to let go of certain things. We also have to be open to adding activities and actions to our lives that are healthy and positive. With your family goals and the goals your children make for Rosh Hashanah, discuss how to make them happen by both letting go of something and adding something.

Make a treasure map to depict your biggest goal for the year. The “X” on your map represents the “treasure box” or the goal you want to reach. Figure out your path or route to get there and depict it on the map. Of course there will be obstacles along the way. These are the challenges and hard work involved. You can depict these obstacles with things like mountains, trees, streams that need to be crossed.

Talk about the importance of picking goals that are challenging. Working hard toward something is healthy. Being uncomfortable at times is good and growthful. Remind your children they are strong, hearty, and resilient. HOWEVER, at the same time we want to make sure our goals are realistic. Realistic does not mean easy and comfortable. Realistic is within reach, but requires consistent and vigorous stretch.

If you haven’t already, this is a good time to call relatives. Have your children call grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Remember to greet them with High Holiday phrases.

• Shanah Tovah or L’Shanah Tovah:  A Good Year 
• Shanah Tovah U’metukah:  A Good and Sweet Year 
• L’Shanah Tovah Tikateyvuh V’tichatemu:  May You Be 
     Written and Sealed For a Good Year

How about a couple more YouTube videos to get in the High Holiday mood?

•  This one is by the Maccabeats. It’s short, shows many of the High Holiday symbols and practices (wearing white for the holiday, shofars, preparing for the holiday with study, giving tzedakah, eating apples and honey). The whole thing is set to the traditional High Holiday nusach (prayers during the holiday follow this tune rather than their usual tune during the rest of the year.)

•  Here's a an upbeat, feel good Rosh Hashanah version of a popular tune, put out by You'll feel inspired!