Thursday, September 15, 2016

Elul Tools 2016 - 13 Elul 5776

Elul Tools

Building a Strong Foundation 

for the Days of Awe

Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

Unknowable one...
Let's hang out. You're as close as
my breath. In and out.

13 Elul—Did You Pay Attention to Your Soul?

Teshuvah, return, is a major theme of the High Holidays. For the past year we have all lived full and complicated lives. Inevitably, 
whatever our goals and hopes were last year at this time, we have strayed from the path. The Hebrew month of Elul allows us time to reflect and return. It’s similar to the navigation system in an airplane. If an aircraft deviates even one degree off course, following that new trajectory will take the pilot completely off course, to an unintended destination. Elul is our ancient navigation system. The shofar sounds to alert us that we are off course. We assess the nature of our wandering. We make adjustments. Left unchecked, we would continue heading in the wrong direction. 

Today we will consider one last aspect of ourselves that may have detoured over the course of the year. Starting tomorrow, we will take what we have learned from our Chesbon Hanefesh (thorough self reflection) and begin the process of recalibrating. We will move from reflection to action. But before we do that, we cannot forget our relationship to our Neshemah, which in Hebrew means both soul AND breath.

Regardless of our spiritual beliefs, the soul needs attention. Many of us don’t know how to pay this kind of attention or even what we are supposed to pay attention to. Connecting with our spiritual life could include a recognition of the source of life. This will mean different things to different people. Some think of this as that which gave birth to the universe and all of creation. Other’s think of this as the pulsing life force that courses through every living thing. However you conceive of the ultimate reality that transcends all and connects all, that is your spiritual framework. 

If you go to synagogue only once a year, at the High Holidays, the primary image of God is that of
Avinu Malkenu, Our Father Our King. While this is a powerful image for the High Holidays, given the type of process we are going through, (accounting for our misdeeds, seeking reconciliation and forgiveness), it is not the whole picture. Yet, many do not connect with this image at all. So if we conclude that the conception of “One God” is that of a Fatherly King who judges us once a year, we may conclude that Judaism doesn't support our spiritual needs or fit into our spiritual framework. However, many are surprised to find out that traditional Judaism supports a wide range of ideas about God, reflecting the many facets of the divine and ultimate reality.

Because the notion of “God” is an incomprehensible, eternal reality beyond our human grasp, we are forced to create images and metaphors. None of them is complete. None fully accurate. But Judaism includes a fantastic array of metaphors for this ungraspable mystery. They each attempt to momentarily capture an aspect of God. These metaphors, fleeting as they are, allow us entry into the world of our soul. Depending on your particular perspective, some will speak to you more than others. Consider some of the classic Jewish ideas of God:

Holy Presence  •  The  Cause of Being  •  Tzur (Rock)   

Hamakom (The Space)  •  Ayla (Force)  •  El Ro-i (God Who Sees Me)  

Rachamana (Compassionate One)  •  Shechina (Indwelling Presence)

Rebonno Shel Olam (Master of the Universe)  •  Shaddai (Almighty)

  M’Kor Hachayyim (Source of Life)  •  Ancient Holy One

Mayan Raz (Mysterious Well)   •  Ayn Sof (Without End, Infinite)

The Unnameable  •  Elohim (Nature Power)

Echad (One)

This is actually only a small sampling of ways to conceive of the inconceivable, but it broadens the spiritual landscape of Judaism. However we relate to the mystery of life, the relationship is a legitimate one worthy of time, attention, care.

Today’s Elul Tool:  Carefully consider how you have cared for your Neshemah, your soul, this past year. What is the quality of your connection to  “The Source Of All That Is?” Have you regularly watered this important garden? Do you take time to pray or meditate? Are you aware of your breath and how it can connect you to this place? If nature is your way to connect to your soul, are you out in it, regularly? What has gotten in the way of strengthening this relationship? How might other areas of your life benefit and flourish if you spent more time nourishing your Neshemah? No judgement, just consideration.

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: Children are naturally spiritually connected! Build on this by encouraging their questions of what God is, the nature of the universe etc. Avoid promoting your own point of view. Share it if asked, but allow your children the space to discover their own ideas. Draw your children out with lots of questions. Quite often children come up with the most poignant metaphors for God without outside input.

•  There are some excellent books on the topic:  What Does God Look Like? by Lawrence and Karen Kushner and In God’s Name, by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso.

•  Talk about the Neshama (soul, breath of life) with your children. Encourage them to connect with their souls by way of their breath, feeling air and life in and out through their nose. How is this like the wind? Like the ebb and flow of the ocean? Can they contribute other metaphors or ideas?

•  As a family discuss how you have nourished your souls this past year and how you have neglected them. Discuss ways to enhance your spiritual lives in the year to come. 

•  Concentrate on the Hebrew letter Alef below. What do you see? Can this symbol help us understand our souls?

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