Saturday, September 24, 2016

Elul Tools 2016 - 22 Elul 5776

 Elul Tools   

Building a Strong Foundation 
for the Days of Awe

Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

Sorry! So sorry!
Is that enough? One more step.
Will you forgive me?

22 Elul—The Three T's: 
Teshuvah, Tzedakah, Tefillah

Jewish tradition teaches that during Elul, and especially the few days before Rosh Hashanah, the heavens are wide open. Our acts of Teshuvah (return), Tzedakah (acts of charity and kindness) and Tefillah (prayer) are especially potent. God is essentially “all ears” at this special time. This is a brilliant Jewish model for renewal and redemption. If we wish to calibrate ourselves to reach our highest potential, the Jewish community collectively takes this annual time to push each other forward. The more of ourselves we pour into this process during Elul, the more we will get out of it during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. To reap a good harvest, tend the garden. We are now in a serious phase of garden tending. We are setting the intention now for a sweet and prosperous new year.

From the beginning of Elul until Yom Kippur (a 40 day window), we have the opportunity to reflect and consider our actions over the year. We also have the opportunity to make amends with those we have hurt or neglected. By the time we reach Yom Kippur we should have taken care of our misdeeds toward others and ourselves. However, Yom Kippur (literally translated as Day of Atonement) is when we stand before God and take responsibility for all our transgressions. We repent to the source directly and ask forgiveness. Tradition teaches that on Yom Kippur the image of God is that of judge. Time to come clean. Have we done enough in the way or repair, repentance, and return? Have we tipped the balance? How will the verdict play out? Again, these are metaphors to inspire us to become better people, to improve the world.

Over the past couple of weeks we have thought a lot about Teshuvah and Tzedakah. Today’s focus for the Jewish recipe for renewal is the the third ingredient: Tefillah (Hebrew for prayer). As we approach Rosh Hashanah it is customary to recite selichot, or penitential prayers. This is essentially a special prayer asking God’s forgiveness for transgressions and misdeeds. As we have already learned, tzedakah is a way to repair damage for mistakes made. But as Yom Kippur approaches, we begin to contemplate the idea of repentance and seeking forgiveness. Now is a good time to find pockets of time to offer prayers or meditations focusing on forgiveness from God. Remember to find images and interpretations of God that are comfortable for you.

It’s sort of like apologizing to a friend. First you make amends by apologizing and accepting responsibility for wrong doing. Perhaps you bring a gift or peace offering to show your sincerity (this would be the tzedakah). Then comes a critical piece in the repair process. You must be humble enough to ask for forgiveness. It’s not enough to just say sorry and bring a flower. Asking forgiveness shows genuine attempt toward change.  

Yom Kippur services include special prayers known as the Vidui (confessional prayers). These prayers are comprised of the Ashmanu (meaning “We have sinned”) and the Al Chet (meaning “For the sin of...) These prayers are recited in the plural showing we are a community. We all have made mistakes. We all want to learn from them and grow. Another beautiful interpretation of the collective nature of the confessional prayers is put forth by Rabbi Isaac Luria, “All the children of Israel are considered a single body, and each person is a limb of that body. Each jew confesses to the sins of the whole body.”

The list of sins from the Al Chet prayer is impressive, comprehensive, and powerful. It is both humbling and unifying. Humans are capable of so much wrong doing, so much hurt. We all stray from the path. All of us err. All of us engage in insensitivities, acts of negligence. But Yom Kippur gives us the opportunity to push the reset button.

Today’s Elul Tool:  Find some time in this week preceding Rosh Hashanah to seek forgiveness from God through prayer, silent meditation, serious contemplation. Come up with a Tefillah (prayer or meditation) that resonates with you, that incorporates the nature of your transgressions and seeks forgiveness. Some prefer to do this at night, when it is dark and quiet. This enhances the serious, introspective nature of the work. Also, familiarize yourself with the very powerful Al Chet prayer. Here are three different versions: 

The first is from and is the traditional Al Chet prayer with great explanation by Rabbi Shraga Simmons. You can view it here.

The second is from, by Rabbi Michael Lerner and reprinted by This version is a modern, alternative interpretation of the ancient prayer.  You can check it out here.

The third is from, by Jordana Horn, and is a collective confession for parents regarding sins committed against our children (by us!) and you can view it here

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:

Teach your children about the three T’s for the High Holidays:

Teshuvah (return)

Tzedakah (loving acts of kindness and charity)

Tefillah (prayer) 

These are the three main ingredients for the Days of Awe.

For Teshuvah discuss the shofar. The shofar is used to wake us up and remind us to come back to ourselves, to God. If you have a shofar practice the different blasts. Or, your children can hold their fists up to their mouths like a shofar and make the sound of each note:

Tekiyah = one long blast
Shevarim = three medium blasts
Teruah = nine stacatto blasts. 
Tekiyah Gedolah = one very long, final blast

For Tzedakah, make a tzedakah box if you haven’t done so already. Collect money to help others. You can also describe tzedakah as acts of loving kindness in general. This is the time of year to give of ourselves in loving ways.

For Tefillah make some time in the evening before bed to talk silently with God about mistakes we made. Part of these special prayers and mediations should include asking for forgiveness (Selichot). Role model this for your children.

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