Building a Strong Foundation for the Days of Awe
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Today's Elul Chai-Ku:
Your needs...OR my needs.
Who first? Maybe what you need
is what I need too.
Who first? Maybe what you need
is what I need too.
8 Elul—You and Your Community. How's That Going?
For the week ahead we will continue the process of Cheshbon Hanefesh (accounting of the soul). We will examine various aspects of our lives, outer as well as inner. Today we zoom the lens out a bit from last week’s contemplations as we consider our community.
We all are involved in many communities such as school, work, interest/hobby groups, friends, city,
and of course our Jewish community. We need these communities. These communities need us. The relationship is reciprocal. We cannot just take from our communities and not expect to give back. But of course this takes time and energy. In our busy, scattered lives most of us seem to barely find the time needed for work, home, and family. The idea of finding even more time to invest in our communities seems overwhelming and impossible. Survival mode is the reality for most. But perhaps more community involvement could actually help us in our attempt to keep our heads above water.
The beautiful thing about communities is that they serve as a large safety net for us, more than any one individual could provide. Our various communities are there for us when we go through major life cycle events, when we are troubled and need assistance, when we celebrate our simchas (happy occasions). But in order for this phenomenon to work, we must invest ourselves in the community. What we get out of community is directly proportional to what we put into it. Think of it as a bank. In order to make a withdrawal, meaning in order to experience the positive effects of a community, there must be something in the bank. That something is an investment of ourselves. We need to make regular “deposits.”
Hillel (famous first century Rabbi and Scholar) urged us, “Do not separate from your community.” Our sages realize that we are interconnected in a vast and vital web. The pulsing life force of the universe does not happen with entities operating in isolation. Everything, everybody, relies on each other to function, to thrive. Of course there are times when we retract and isolate. Then there are times when we come forward, involve ourselves. Situations change. But over the long haul, our well-being, and the health and vitality of our families, is related to larger community involvement. The key is to balance our individual needs with the needs of the communities of which we are a part. A very important Jewish concept, also attributed to Hillel, speaks to this issue:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?” (Pirke Avot 1:14).
Today’s Elul Tool: Think about your communities. What is your role in them? Is being actively involved in your various communities difficult for you? Could you give more? In the past year have you supported your communities by making small, consistent “deposits?” Or have you been more isolated, neglecting your community? Try to keep your mind neutrally focused on what is. Avoid hassling yourself. Simply think about your role. How has your involvement (or lack there of) impacted your communities and by reciprocal extension, impacted you?
It is customary to read Psalm 27 twice daily during Elul.
Here is an online version of Psalm 27 for easy access.
To find our more about why we read Psalm 27 in preparation for the High Holidays, here's an article from My Jewish Learning by Rabbi Benjamin Segal.
For Families and Kids!
Junior Tool Box: Make a “community web” with your children. Start with your family at the center of the web. You can draw this or actually glue a picture of your child or family at the center of a large piece of paper. Draw various lines out from this center picture to show the various larger groups of which your family is a part such as
school, hobby group, synagogue or spiritual community, etc). You can draw these groups (communities) or cut pictures from magazines to depict them. Talk about your involvement in each of these groups and how you could give more to each of these communities in the year to come.
A Teshuva activity for very young children (or older too!!)
Since very young children will not understand some of these concepts about community, you can begin to symbolize the process of Teshuva (return) which is central to the High Holidays. Get a white board and white board markers. Start with the board completely blank (white). Tell your child this is Rosh Hashanah. It’s the start of a new year. Everything is new and clean and pure. A literal blank slate. Then give your child the markers and tell them to fill the space. As the white space fills with color and design, tell them this is the year going by. Things happen: events, learning, growing, changing. At some point after the board is completely filled, shout out “Teshuva!” which is their cue to wipe the board clean. Coming full circle again. Time to clean up our lives. Time to prepare for a new year. Repeat this process again and again. This will allow your child to integrate the word Teshuva with Rosh Hashanah and the idea of starting fresh, of returning to a clean slate. What’s nice about using a white board for this activity is that white is the color of Yom Kippur, symbolizing return and purity. Also, it’s easy and effective to wipe the board to signal starting fresh.