Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Elul 2016 - 18 Elul 5776

Elul Tools 

Building a Strong Foundation 

for the Days of Awe



Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)



Today's Elul Chai-Ku:


Can amends be made
for fouling the cosmic nest?
Show kindness. Give love.



18 Elul - Repairing the "Un-Repairable?"

The word for sin in Hebrew is Chet. However, there is no true equivalent in meaning. In Hebrew, the word Chet refers to archery and means “missing the mark.” It’s not so much about being wicked, but more about being distracted or pulled off task.

In Judaism there are essentially three types of sins: sinning against another person, sinning against ourselves, and sinning against God. When we hurt others or ourselves, we can make amends directly. However, sins against God are trickier. Such transgressions include violations of ritual law (i.e. not observing Shabbat), sins of unconsciousness or omission (i.e. not showing gratitude for our lives and all that we have, looking the other way when a stranger needs help), and behaviors that disrupt the larger environments in which we live (i.e. consuming more of the earth’s resources than we actually need).


How do we even begin to deal with making amends

for such things? Yes we engaged in Leshon Hara (evil speech and gossip) throughout the past year, but we can’t possibly unsay all the hurtful things that spilled from our lips. Of course we used more water, petroleum, paper, food, plastic than we needed, but how do we make amends for that? Sure, we can vow to do better, but that doesn't fix what is done.


How do we repair what has already been seemingly irreparably destroyed, irretrievably consumed? Yes we ignored people in need, larger issues that needed our attention. But realistically there is only so much we can do in a day! No, we did not thank God regularly for our lives, for the Earth, for access to information, for transportation, for heat in our homes, for running water, for abundant food supplies, for books...Not only did we not give thanks as often as we should have, we probably kvetched about a lot. How are we to atone for all the things we mindlessly consumed, unconsciously disrupted, conveniently avoided? What is the process for making amends with God?

Jewish tradition responds to this question with Tzedakah, the Hebrew word for justice, but usually understood as acts of charity and kindness. During Elul it is traditional to give something back. For some this could be a monetary donation to a worthy cause. For others, it could be selfless acts of love and kindness (i.e. visiting the sick or elderly, volunteering in your community). Some give back by performing tangible acts of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) such as taking additional care of the environment (i.e. picking up trash).


This tzedakah we give in preparation for the Days of Awe should be generous and beyond our comfort zone. It is not enough to do and give at at our usual level. Our work is to make amends to God by fixing some small piece of the world that would have otherwise been left unattended. Recall the image of the scale. In order to balance the thousands of transgressions against God we committed throughout the year, we offer a gift. This calibrates our annual scale, brings things into alignment. Perhaps we might even tip the balance ever so slightly in the positive, toward righteousness. It may be easier to to conceptualize in karmic terms. We accrued lots of bad karma in the past year through our selfishness and disregard. In order to bring the karmic energy into harmony, we should go out of our way to be mensches during Elul and the Days of Awe. Maybe even longer?


Today’s Elul Tool:  Make amends to God, to the universe, by giving some form of tzedakah. Decide if you want to give money or time. Remember to stretch as far as you can. It’s okay if it’s uncomfortable. If you are making a donation, think about giving more than you normally would by forgoing something else. If you are giving your time and energy, you may need to give up some other activity or event to do it. It’s time to give back. If it feels overwhelming and frustrating to add “one more thing,” remember all that we are given everyday without even thinking about it. Give generously and liberally!

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:

Discuss the three types of sin in Judaism. Frame this as three ways we can miss the mark (hurting others, hurting ourselves, hurting God). Help your children understand what kinds of things hurt God, hurt the world.







Discuss the concept of Jewish sin meaning that we miss the mark. The High Holidays helps us remember how we have missed the mark in the past year.






Make an Elul tzedakah box. Collect money (change, loose coins, even occasional bills) during Elul and decide where you want to give your tzedakah. Talk about how this is a gift for God to show we are sorry for our mistakes.


Listen to the tzedakah songs in the audiofile below:


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