Written by: Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
The wind rushes through the trees at our new home, creating a swishing chorus of dancing branches and leaves. We are so grateful to be putting down roots in our new home in the woods of Eliot. We wonder how each season will present itself; how the cycles of time will play out in the forest that surrounds our home. Today the hummingbirds flit about on our clothesline while bluebirds and goldfinches chase each other from tree to tree. This morning a flock of chubby wild turkeys galumphing through the yard makes me laugh. Yellow and purple flowers are blooming in the garden Steve has lovingly created, the wonder of a partnership between man, nature and God. All these sights are beautiful and all are fleeting.
We are always living through cycles in time. The natural world presents this undeniable truth to us through the transformation of seed to root, to stem, to flower and fruit and back to seed again; through the circular change in seasons; through the life cycle of every individual. And our Jewish spiritual life is expressed through rituals that deepen our experience of cycles in time while providing us with a window into the Eternal, that which is beyond earthly time.
It is noteworthy that the very first mitzvah recorded in our Torah and given to our people in the wilderness of Sinai is the command to create a calendar. The first essential tool for living a life of true freedom is the establishment of a sacred order to the cycles of time that every generation experiences. Today, we find ourselves in the month of Elul, in preparation for the turn into a new
spiritual year. Time moves through the Jewish calendar as a spiral (think of the round challah on Rosh Hashanah), returning us each year to familiar places and rituals, but in a new position on the journey. Just as time returns us to this place each year, we are called upon to return (shuv) to the essential truths and values that guide our lives. We are called to remember, that is, to re-member, to
reconnect all that has become frayed or damaged.
In this month of Elul, we enter the cycle of return (teshuvah) to our core values and highest aspirations for all our relationships. We begin with contemplation and self-assessment. As the month culminates with Rosh Hashanah and crescendos with Yom Kippur, we move from inner work to outer change, from contemplation to the actualization of repairing relationships.
We have many traditional rituals and synagogue offerings to support us in this process. The sounding of the shofar at morning services this
month is meant to awaken us, like a spiritual alarm clock, to the work of teshuvah that is now upon us. On Wednesday, September 13, at 9:30 am, we will gather for donuts, coffee and schmoozing and at 10:00 am we will move to the Chapel for a short morning service including the sounding of the shofar.
On Thursday, Aug. 31, congregants joined me for a workshop entitled Cheshbon Hanefesh- An Accounting of the Soul. The evening began with gentle yoga to soften, stretch and relax. We then explored several Mussar texts addressing our attitudes and behavior through small group discussions and contemplative journal-writing exercises.
May we all savor these last days of summer, as we deepen our awareness of the cyclical nature of life. And may we discover our capacity for creating peace in our lives and in our world.
Shanah Tovah U’metukah, a good and sweet new year.