Thursday, September 8, 2016

Elul Tools 2016 - 6 Elul 5776

Elul Tools 
Building a Strong 
Foundation for the 
Days of Awe

Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

Hold your good deeds in  
one hand, bad in the other.
Which hand has the most? 

6 Elul—Finding the Gems:  What’s Gone Well?

If you have been following and using the Elul Tools in order, congratulate yourself for taking 
an honest, neutral look at your relationships with other people. Acknowledging our shortcomings and character flaws is both difficult and humbling. Before exploring other realms and ideas in the days and weeks to come, we’ll end today on a positive note…contemplating the strengths and successes in our relationships. We cannot fully understand ourselves and grow if we only examine ourselves in a distorted way. A balanced, realistic view of who we are is a critical component of Cheshbon Hanefesh, our Jewish accounting of the soul. While acknowledging where we have missed the mark and working to repair any damage is paramount, so to is applauding where we have grown, where our natural strengths and talents lie, and how we have stayed in alignment with goals set from last year. 

There is a classic Jewish idea, originating back to Maimonides (preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher), that we all possess within us “merits and sins,” the propensity for both positive and negative actions. We can imagine these actions on a balancing scale. If our actions even out on the scale, we are beinoni, an average, in-between person. The other two sides of the scale are the tzaddik (righteous person) on the positive side and the rasha (evil doer) on the negative side.

A driving force in our life should be, at a minimum, to have those scales in balance. Of
course we behave badly at times. The scale tips one way. But we rectify situations and perform loving acts of kindness. The scale tips the other way. Elul gives us the opportunity to examine our inner scale. What are the things that tip us to the rasha side.  What are our strengths and loving actions that give weight to the side of tzedakkah and tikkun olam (repairing the world)? The “repair” work we do during Elul and The Days of Awe give us the opportunity to bring the annual scale back into balance, even tipping it toward righteousness. A traditional (and very potent) Jewish idea is to consider that right now, the world is in a state of complete balance. The very next action you perform will tip not only your scale, but the global scale as well. Hmmmm. Which way will you go? What if we considered this idea consistently, before every action. How might we improve our own lives, our communities, the world?

Today’s Elul Tool:  Think of the people in your life and the positive ways you have affected them. How have you created more peace, more light in your relationships? What are the ways you show love and kindness to those very close to you, those on the periphery, complete strangers? Contemplate your inner scale. In regard to your relationships, what tips your balance one way or the other. Begin to consider how to have your relationship scale tip more often in the direction of shalom by finding and using your gems.

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: The symbol of the scale is a great image to use with kids. Create a visual for this and post it somewhere in your home. You can either draw your own scale, find an image online, or even find an actual balancing scale (toy or real).  

Make an activity out of adding things to your scale. For example, put sticky notes on either side for the “behaviors we need to work on” and “behaviors we are good at.” 

If you want to keep the behaviors focused on relationships for now here are some ideas: 

using manners
being helpful
showing respect

Being specific is helpful, especially for very young children. For example:

“I am very good at saying thank you.”  

“I need to work on sharing my stickers with my sister.”  

Kids will enjoy seeing the “positive” side of the scale tip as they perform mitzvot and acts of kindness and repair during Elul.  

Another activity:  Below is balancing scale to print out and post.  Write a single word summarizing two family goals for the year ahead:

1.  What to leave behind and 
2.  What to work toward.  

For example:  

Leave behind:  Arguing
Work toward: More family dinners   

Post this somewhere in your home and keep it up for the year.  Revisit next year at this time and assess whether you were able to tip the scale in the right direction!

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Leave Behind                                   Work Toward                                                   

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