Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Elul Tools 2016 - 26 Elul 5776

Elul Tools 

Building a Strong Foundation 
for the Days of Awe


Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

I really want that!
What should I do to get it?
Maybe give up this!

26 Elul - Create Intention, Make a Plan...

Yesterday we made a concrete goal for 5777. In order to get there though, we should have a plan. Otherwise we run the risk of floating around with our good idea in our head, but never really manifesting it in our lives. By actually constructing a plan, we are setting an intention for reaching our destination.

In Judaism the term Kavannah speaks to this type of intentionality. The goal we set for 5777 undoubtedly stems from a desire of the heart. But without the clear planning abilities of the mind, we may not achieve it. Additionally we have to throw in some Ruach (spirit or passion) and Chutzpah (courage, gutsiness) to make it all happen. Aligning all of these things creates authentic focus. This is exactly what our Sages impress upon us about reaching a state of Kavannah.

The word Kavannah is often reserved for Jewish prayer. Our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls must be precisely aligned to achieve divine union with God. This is a difficult task. We are humans and scattered in all sorts of ways. Sometimes our bodies are present but our mind is wandering. Other times mind and body are ready, but our hearts are aching. Kavannah is the place where it all comes together and we achieve, even if only fleetingly, oneness.

It’s possible to apply this idea of Kavannah to our heart felt goal for the new year. Whatever our target is for 5777, we  can think of it as a holy intention to produce positive change. We can treat it as a prayer to God and to ourselves. To achieve “oneness with our goal” we have to get ourselves into the proper alignment, the appropriate Kavannah.

Ushering in new behavior and change is very difficult. We are habituated creatures seeking comfort and respite whenever we can. Creating meaningful, positive change that will last, undoubtedly includes making a sacrifice. We have to pinpoint those sacrifices and ask ourselves if it’s really worth it. We have to assess if it's actually attainable. If we want a particular result, a particular change to be manifested by Rosh Hashanah 5778, (just about one year from now) it’s time to make uncomfortable changes and give up some things to which we are accustomed.

A quick diversion. When making challah for Shabbat, it is customary to pull off one small section of the dough and recite a special prayer. The small piece of dough turns into a crisp, hard, black ball as it bakes alongside the golden challah loaves. Why? Originally “challah” referred not to the loaf but to this small piece of dough that was set aside for the Kohen (priest) when making bread. In modern times we separate, bless, and burn a small piece of dough when making bread in remembrance of the portion given to God. It’s a small sacrifice we make to remind us that sustenance ultimately comes from God. In this way we can transform the baking of bread into a spiritual act.

So to, we can make our goal setting a spiritual act. Our goal for the new year is like a beautiful golden challah. It’s a change, ambition, or pursuit that will provide us with sustenance and pleasure in the year ahead. We can elevate our setting of this goal to a holy act by aligning all the different parts of ourselves to attain it. Kavannah. Yes, we will need to make some sacrifices. We will need to separate out our symbolic piece of dough and offer it up to God.

Today’s Elul Tool:  Getting to where you want to be next year requires some forethought. It’s a bit like following a map to get to the “treasure chest.” To help you find your treasure, consider these questions regarding your goal for 5777. They are inter-related. It may help to answer all three, or perhaps just stick to one. By aligning your mind with heart, body, and soul, you are creating a Kavannah for manifesting what you want. The treasure is there and in sight, but what is the path for getting there. What are the steps you must take? Write this down. Make it real.

My Goal for 5777 is:

To achieve my goal for 5777, I need to...

Stop doing:

Start doing:


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: 
As a family, talk about how changing and growing require us to let go of certain things. We also have to be open to adding activities and actions to our lives that are healthy and positive. With your family goals and the goals your children make for Rosh Hashanah, discuss how to make them happen by both letting go of something and adding something.

Make a treasure map to depict your biggest goal for the year. The “X” on your map represents the “treasure box” or the goal you want to reach. Figure out your path or route to get there and depict it on the map. Of course there will be obstacles along the way. These are the challenges and hard work involved. You can depict these obstacles with things like mountains, trees, streams that need to be crossed.

Talk about the importance of picking goals that are challenging. Working hard toward something is healthy. Being uncomfortable at times is good and growthful. Remind your children they are strong, hearty, and resilient. HOWEVER, at the same time we want to make sure our goals are realistic. Realistic does not mean easy and comfortable. Realistic is within reach, but requires consistent and vigorous stretch.

If you haven’t already, this is a good time to call relatives. Have your children call grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Remember to greet them with High Holiday phrases.

• Shanah Tovah or L’Shanah Tovah:  A Good Year 
• Shanah Tovah U’metukah:  A Good and Sweet Year 
• L’Shanah Tovah Tikateyvuh V’tichatemu:  May You Be 
     Written and Sealed For a Good Year

How about a couple more YouTube videos to get in the High Holiday mood?

•  This one is by the Maccabeats. It’s short, shows many of the High Holiday symbols and practices (wearing white for the holiday, shofars, preparing for the holiday with study, giving tzedakah, eating apples and honey). The whole thing is set to the traditional High Holiday nusach (prayers during the holiday follow this tune rather than their usual tune during the rest of the year.)

•  Here's a an upbeat, feel good Rosh Hashanah version of a popular tune, put out by You'll feel inspired!

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