Thursday, September 29, 2016

Elul Tools 2016 - 27 Elul 5776

Elul Tools  

Building a Strong Foundation 
for the Days of Awe

Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

Fractured, we unite.
Merging, even if only 
for a little while.  

27 Elul - Getting at the Heart of Atonement

Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, is commonly referred to as the “Day of Atonement” (yom meaning day and kippur meaning atonement). The month of Elul, followed by the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are the lead up for this day of non-stop prayer, fasting, reflection, and meditation.

You may have heard this special day referred to as the Day of “At-One-Ment.” While this may have a simplistic, New Age ring to it, that’s really what it’s all about. On this one day of the year, we align, completely, with the Holy One. We want to be so present and so available to the renewal this day has to offer that we forgo many of the usual, daily routines of life (working, eating, drinking, bathing, intimacy, chatting, hanging out). We fast because we want to achieve a place of emptiness, in order to be filled anew. Additionally, the act of preparing and eating food is a distraction from the focus of the day.

We have thought a lot about the word Teshuvah which means both repentance and return. Coming back to us. Coming back, if even only for a day, to our essential nature, to God. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, of blessed memory, metaphorically refers to this as acquiring our “New God Interface.” He explains that during the year, our operating system gets sluggish. After awhile, daily living clogs the filters. Our systems slow down, having acquired too much extraneous and inefficient data. Keeping with Reb Zalman's metaphor, the Days of Awe allow us to run diagnostic software, perform upgrades. The goal is to get our internal hard-drives functioning at their highest level again. With a completely upgraded system we charge forth into the new year as a finer version. Of course this version will be outdated too in a year’s time.

The definition of the word atone is to reconcile, to be in harmony, to make amends. Keep in mind that on Yom Kippur we are reconciling and making amends with God as we ideally have cleaned up all our messes with others already. When we do this with God, we come back into balance. Our relationship is calibrated. We are in harmony with the Divine energy of the universe. So in essence we truly are in a state of at-one-ment.

Consider the word reconcile, like bringing our checkbook into balance. When the statement balances out, there is a feeling of peace and perfection. Everything lined up and worked loose ends. Yom Kippur is much like balancing our accounts with God.

One last thought about At-One-Ment. This is a little far out, but is a traditional concept in contemplating the unity we seek on Yom Kippur. Consider the oneness, unity shared by lovers. There is a beautiful poetic phrase from the Song of Songs, usually recited at weddings and inscribed on the Ketubah (Jewish Wedding Contract): I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine. The image invoked is that of complete unification. In Hebrew the phrase is: Ani l'dodi, v'dodi li.

Our sages have decoded the fact that the Hebrew letters in the word Elul (alef, lamed, vav, lamed) are an acronym for this phrase in Hebrew. The image here to the right depicts this coded connection. During Elul we move ever closer to our beloved and our beloved to us. On Yom Kippur, we meet and attain a true sense of At One Ment...

Today’s Elul Tool:  Think about Atonement and At-One-Ment. Reflect on Echad (Hebrew for one). Consider all the different images for achieving oneness (harmony, balance, unification, the computer metaphors of the New God Interface, the accounting metaphor of reconciling, the image of lovers united). Which of these resonate with your own ideas for attaining Atonement. Begin to integrate this image, this idea into your mind and soul as you approach these transformative Days of Awe. If it helps, consider the image of the Alef (above, left) which is the first letter of the Hebrew alef-bet, with the numerical value of one. Can you see ideas of harmony, balance, or unity in this symbol?

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:

Discuss the ideas of Atonement and Oneness with your children. What are ways we feel connected to others, to ourselves, to God? Some ideas may be to talk about how we feel in nature, how we feel when we perform kind acts, when we sing Jewish songs and say Hebrew blessings, how we feel in the warm embrace of our families.

Explain how in Hebrew, every letter of the Alef-Bet has a numerical value. The first letter of the Alef-Bet is Alef and represents the number One. Discuss the symbol of the Alef and find ways that it represents oneness, balance, unity, and harmony. Remind children that this is a nice symbol to think about when they feel lonely, anxious, or frightened. It can remind us that we all are connected, we all are one. We touched on this idea a couple of weeks ago, but now begin to connect the idea of Oneness with Yom Kippur. Bonus:  Can you find something in the Alef that looks like a shofar?

Have an apple and honey tasting. Purchase different types of apple and honey and take a family survey on which everyone likes best!

Can you see the shofar in the sky???

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