Monday, September 26, 2016

Elul Tools 2016 - 24 Elul 5776

Elul Tools  

Building a Strong Foundation 
for the Days of Awe

Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

No one else can be
the me I am meant to be. 
I better nail it.

24 Elul—Ponder This...

We are about to bid adieu to the Jewish year 5776. The year has brought us many gifts and many challenges. Over the past three weeks, we have spent time considering the kind of person we WERE in the last year. However, with 5777 on the horizon, we shift our perspective to the future. We begin to think about the person we want to BECOME.

Fast forward twelve months. Who do you want to see this time next year? The same person with the same negative habits? The same complaints and frustrations? Or do you want to see someone new and improved?

In order for a finer version of ourselves to emerge over the next twelve months, we must first acknowledge this will not happen without intention and hard work. But how do we get started? Set a goal? Yes, a clear goal is a critical component. However, a goal often emerges after asking ourselves important questions, focused inquiry that gets to the meat of something. The goal then is the final statement or mantra we place before us after reaching clarity about our deepest yearnings.

There is a beautiful Hasidic story that challenges us to continually evolve into the person we are meant to be...not some frustrated illusion of who we ought to be. It goes like this:

     Once, the great Hasidic leader, Zusia, came to his followers. His eyes were red with tears, and his face was pale with fear.

“Zusia, what’s the matter? You look frightened!”

“The other day, I had a vision. In it, I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”

The followers were puzzled. “Zusia, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”

Zusia turned his gaze to heaven. “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?’”

His followers persisted. “So, what will they ask you?”

“And I have learned,” Zusia sighed, “that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?’”

One of his followers approached Zusia and placed his hands on Zusia’s shoulders. Looking him in the eyes, the follower demanded, “But what will they ask you?”

“They will say to me, ‘Zusia, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’ They will say, ‘Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?’”

Today’s Elul Tool:  Below are a few poignant questions to consider for the year ahead. Ask them of yourself and see which one has the most resonance. They are all inter-related to some degree. But which question seems to get at the core of the type of change you want to make? Spend today pondering this question.

•  Consider the Zusia story. Ask yourself, "What keeps me from being exactly who I am, from settling into the real, authentic me?"

•  What single thing can I do to improve the quality of my life in this next year.

•   What brings me the most joy? How much time do I actually spend pursuing this joy? How can I increase the time in 5777?

•  What project, goal or, or issue needing attention, if not attended to, will I most regret next Rosh Hashanah?

•  If I knew I could not fail, what would I undertake in the next year?

(Note:  Last two questions are from Ten Questions to Ask Yourself, Especially at Elul, by Rabbi Dov Heller, from

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:  Introduce the concept of the New Year and how it differs from the secular New Year. We are moving from the year 5776 to the year 5777 on the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of  Tishrei, 5777.

Post the current Jewish year in your house (5776). Make it big and visible.  Have a countdown calendar until the new year starts (sundown on Sunday, October 2).  When the year changes, replace the 6 with a 7!

Purchase a Jewish calendar and keep track of the Hebrew months in the year 5777!

If it seems appropriate, share the Zusia story above with your children. Use this as a springboard to talk about how everyone is special and unique in their own way. Our job in life is to be exactly who we are. This is what God most wants from us!

A popular way to celebrate the New Year with young children is to have a “Birthday Party for the
World.”  Brainstorm with your children the ways we celebrate birthdays?  Cake, song, presents! How could you incorporate those ideas into a party for the world? You can tie in many Rosh Hashanah themes for a party. The cake can be decorated with the year 5777, or even get numbered candles. Sing Happy Birthday to the world. Give the world a present! This could either be tzedakah to a cause, or a present in the form of becoming a better person. Everyone in the family can write a Happy Birthday Card to the world and include concrete behaviors to work on. This could be personal behaviors (i.e. share my toys more often) or actions in the world (ride my bike more).  Another fun way to do it is to write your idea on a piece of paper and wrap it up like a present. In explaining to your children you can suggest that this is not necessarily the birthday of the Earth, in geologic time, but the birthday of the “Jewish World” as we know it.

There are three great children’s books incorporating the theme of the World’s Birthday for Rosh Hashanah. See info below:

Happy Birthday, World 
by Latifa Berry Kropf
A sweet and simple boardbook for pre-schoolers.

The World’s Birthday:  A Rosh Hashanah Story

by Barbara Diamond Goldin

For ages five and up.

Today is the Birthday of the World
by Linda Keller. 

This book was also mentioned in Day 17 of Elul Tools. A nice perspective this book offers is one similiar to the Zusia story above. We all essentially have our own unique gifts to offer the world. We are here to be ourselves, completely. Our life's work is to explore, enhance, and offer our authentic "me-ness" to others. This is the best birthday present we can give to the world, to God.

If you haven’t already, get into the festive nature of the Holiday by baking a honey cake or round challah. These are excellent projects to do with kids.

Keep eating your apples and honey! Wish each other a “Sweet New Year!”

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