Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Elul Tools 2016 - 5 Elul 5776

Elul Tools 

Building a Strong Foundation
for the Days of Awe



Shofar Blast 

(press the arrow below)






Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

Inspired by lyrics from People Are Strange, the Doors

People are strange when
YOU are a stranger. Reach out...
make the unknown, known.



5 Elul - Keep on Searchin':  Did you Welcome the Stranger?

Today we continue contemplating our relationships
over the past year. The sphere expands a bit as we consider our more tangential relations. These are the folks we cross paths with due to circumstances, rather than blood relation or affinity. For example, our neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances, friends of friends, the mail carrier, clerks at the store, even complete strangers. Essentially all these people are strangers to some degree. While it is true that we may intersect at various points, these are not the people we would keep in touch with should we move away. What kind of behavior or action should we show these people. Inclusion and hospitality? Respect and kindness? Neutrality? Aloofness? Leeriness or mistrust? Jewish tradition has much to say on this topic.


“Welcoming the Stranger,” is a central theme in Judaism. Its roots span all the way back to our original matriarch and patriarch, Abraham and Sarah.  According to tradition, they were consummate hosts. Their unique hospitality included welcoming sojourners to their tent, providing refreshments and elaborate meals, a comfortable place to rest, even washing their feet with cool water.



In the Torah, God encourages us to “Welcome the stranger because we too were once strangers in the land of Egypt."  Ancestrally, we know the experience of being an outsider, of being disregarded, of being oppressed, of being exiled. From this core teaching comes a time honored Jewish virtue known as Hachnasat Orchim, which means welcoming the stranger and extending hospitality. It’s a mitzvah to go out of our way to include people, to reach out to those on the fringes, to extend niceties to those all around us. Jewish tradition takes it one step further and says that it shouldn’t even matter whether or not we agree or disagree with them, whether they are rich or poor, clean or dirty. For in the end we all come from the same source. Everyone deserves respect and kindness that is appropriate for the situation.



Extroverts are usually more comfortable engaging strangers and people on the periphery of their social sphere. For example, having a nice chat with the neighbor, welcoming a newcomer at an event, or catching up with a colleague does not only come easily, but is also enjoyable. On the other hand, for the more introverted among us, these types of social interactions are more trying and often avoided.


Today’s Elul Tool: For today examine your relationships with both kinds of strangers (the true stranger and those who are in your life only by situation).

For actual strangers, think about whether you have been welcoming and inclusive in the past year. Do you make it a habit to introduce yourself to people you don’t know? Do you express curiosity and try to learn more about them? Or, on the other hand, have you avoided these interactions.

For the peripheral people in your life, are your friendly and kind? Do you make an effort to greet people and ask about their lives? Do you regularly share a smile or greeting with clerks and service people? Have you brought a treat to work to share with your colleagues? Have you invited your neighbors for a meal or cup of tea? Of course this requires extra time and work on our parts! Of course we don’t have such time and energy! Yet consider how your pulling in, rather than reaching out, has negatively impacted the social bonds and network around you. Avoid engaging in a tit for tat conversation in your mind like “Why should I invite the neighbors, they haven’t reached out to me?” Simply think about your role in allowing missed opportunities for connecting, building community, and including someone from the outside. How might both parties have gained?

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: Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming the stranger, is actually something that comes quite naturally for children, especially the very young. Build on this natural tendency. However, it is important for children to know the difference between strangers (with a little s) and Strangers (with a big S). For now the lesson is kindness and respect appropriate for the situation, while continuing to learn levels of discernment.

In preparing very young children for the Days of Awe, the emphasis should be more upon performing mitzvot, now during Elul, rather than dwelling on intense character exploration. Have discussions or role plays (either with people in the family or dolls/stuffed animals) on the following aspects of Hachnasat Orchim:

Hospitality: 
• Offer friends a drink or snack when they visit
• Show friends to the door when they leave
• Ask how others are doing, do they need anything
• When hosting a playdate, allow friends to go first

Reaching Out:
• Introduce yourself to children in a new setting
• Include or sit by a new child
• Wave and greet neighbors when you see them
• Engage in friendly conversations with clerks, service people etc.

Role plays can be done showing the positive desired behaviors as well as unkind behaviors which do not work as well.


Hands-on Hachnasat Orchim Activities for Elul (or anytime!)


These are great ways for you to engage in an activity with your children while producing a tangible “give away” at the end.

Bake something for a neighbor

Pick a bouquet and deliver to an acquaintance or neighbor


Send a homemade card or picture to a relative you have been out of touch with for a long time (they can become like strangers when they are so far away!)

Or, make a card or picture for your mail carrier


Plan a kid friendly block party


As always, children learn from role models. Do your best to reach beyond yourself and your inner circle. Show your children how to extend a hand to “the stranger” through hospitality, graciousness, and respect.

1 comment:

  1. Another great read! This one I think I'm doing okay with.

    ReplyDelete