Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Elul Tools 2016 - 12 Elul 5776

Elul Tools 

Building a Strong Foundation 

for the Days of Awe

It's Elul. Time to Wake Up!

Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

Pursuit of knowledge...
Is yours life long? Have you stopped? 
Learn stuff. Feed your mind.

12 Elul—Have You Nourished Your Mind?

A helpful metaphor during Elul is that of “Missing the Mark.” It’s not so much that we have been bad people, sinners. Rather we should think of ourselves as archers. Because of the inevitable, inherent distractions of life, we simply don’t reach the bulls eye every time we aim. The goal over the course of our lives is to get closer to the bulls eye and to hit that target more and more. Our reflections now, regarding our conduct over the past year, help us adjust our aim in the year to come.

For the past couple of days we have considered our relationship to ourselves. How have we short changed ourselves physically? How have we neglected ourselves emotionally. Today we think about how we may have disregarded ourselves intellectually.
This part of ourselves is easy to ignore. As adults, we aren’t students anymore. That phase of our lives is over. Or, we may consider our jobs as the intellectual part of our lives. While it is true that we may get some of our intellectual needs met through work, many of us neglect learning and growing outside of work. Time is the inevitable culprit. Taking care of our minds and creative impulses seems like an indulgence in our otherwise full and busy lives. Having a satisfying intellectual life may not seem like our most pressing need, but we must realize that it will always get pushed to the back burner when we treat it as a minor “luxury.”

Many of us forget that learning is a life long process, not just something for children and students. Our minds are built for constant input and stimulation. Yet many of us in our thirties and beyond begin to let that part of us atrophy. Quite often, we also let our bodies begin to sag and fade a bit too. But because we can tangibly see that part of ourselves, our bodies often get more attention than the wilting of our minds. We can’t forget to tend to our “intellectual garden.” Often times we don’t know that we need intellectual stimulation. All we know is that we feel a certain kind of blah, or malaise. Perhaps that is the mind calling out to us, FEED ME. If only we could read the signals.

Judaism has a longstanding tradition of study and life long learning. While it is true that many equate this with the study of Torah and sacred texts, there is also a fundamental value of study in general. We are encouraged to question and critically investigate the world around us. Reading, gaining knowledge, studying and learning new ideas and skills are seen as keys to our overall vitality. When we are learning we are growing! Our sages, in Pirkei Avot (the Sayings of our Fathers) assert:

The world stands on three things: 
On Torah,
on service,
and on acts of kindness.
(Talmud - Avot 1:2)

Rabbi Shraga Simmons, in offering a more modern and accessible translation of this idea, understands Torah as the “Pursuit of Wisdom” and the world as people. So if this idea is true, that our lives are held up by three things, one of which is the pursuit of wisdom, how are you contributing (or not) to your own stability?

Today’s Elul Tool:  Think about your intellectual life over the past year. Have you nourished it, or have you neglected it? Do you read regularly? Do you keep your mind open to knew thoughts and ideas by learning and listening to others? Or rather have you been stuck more in “survival mode?” Is there something you have been wanting to learn for a long time (a language, a skill, an instrument, more Torah). Did you put it off again this year? Why? What is the obstacle that prevents you from pursuing knowledge, from feeding your mind? Is the obstacle you?

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:  You Learned So Much This Year!

•  Elul and Rosh Hashanah are great times to talk about all the learning and growth that has occurred for your children over the past year. Have family discussions about the learning that has taken place for everyone in the family. Also discuss the importance of life long learning.

•  Since children are rapidly absorbing everything around them, it is great to visually document their successes and milestones. Create a “Learning Time Line” to chart the incredible depth and breadth of learning in the past year. Since these are the years where major life skills are learned (i.e. riding a bike, tying shoes, learning how to play an instrument, doing a cart wheel, helping with chores, learning to read etc) your children will be surprised to document how much they learned.

•  Make a “prediction chart"  for the year ahead. Next year at this time I will know/know how to...

•  Role model life long learning for your children whenever possible. It is wonderful for them to see you taking classes, reading, studying a foreign language, investigating the world around you.

•  Go to the library! Let your kids check out as many books as the library will allow!

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