And… we’re back! School started off with a bang (well, a blast, technically) this week, and one of the best parts was the return of a daily Elul reflection writing group started by a friend and recent graduate, Rabbi Jordan Braunig, now a rabbi at Tufts University Hillel!
Elul is the Hebrew name of the month preceding the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Since Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, the whole month is used to prepare for these awe-full days, to take stock of the past year and check in. Are you living life in the best way possible? What would you change or tweak about yourself or your life given the chance of a fresh start at the beginning of a new year?
Jordan’s Elul prompts have been a staple of my heshbon nefesh (soul accounting) and a great way to jump start my daily writing practice, which tends to wane during the beautiful summer months that are so anomalous to Boston’s typical climate. Jordan’s prompts are so wonderful that I asked permission to share them. I will do my best to post daily, as he does, but for now, here are the first three to get you caught up:
Elul, Day 1 - א באלול
I am very excited to be embarking on this journey with all of you. We have a fine collection of people who are interested in journaling their way right through those creaky, old Gates of Teshuvah. Along the way, please feel free to share thoughts and writing with me (or suggestions for prompts!).
What you will need for this practice:
Pen or Pencil
Ten to Fifteen Minutes
Large Sack of Regrets
Smidgen of Hope
Belief in the Ultimate Redeemability of Your Soul
If Heschel is correct in describing Shabbat as a palace in time, then we might assert that Elul is more of a bus terminal in time. Stretching out endlessly, with lots of horns blasting and a great deal of anxious waiting, Elul is where we gather before the journey really begins. Instead of spending that waiting-time on sudoku or the latest Sue Grafton offering, I invite you to make a spiritual to-do list for this month. What conversations do you need to have? What books and texts do you want to read? What shifts in your way of being would you like to make?
Elul, Day 2 - ב באלול
It’s been really nice to hear from so many of you, and please feel free to send me thoughts or a piece of your writing from time to time.
In his book Orot HaTeshuvah, The Lights of Teshuvah, Rav Kook states that process of teshuvah is not about the usual suspects of guilt and sorrow and penitence, but is, instead, about a return to perfection that is our most natural state. In the introduction to the work he makes the audacious statement that “teshuvah occupies the greatest portion of Torah and life.”
If I were asked what occupies the greatest portion of my life, I might say “email” or “logistics” or “procrastination.” If only the greatest portion of my life were devoted to self-betterment. Yet, perhaps Rav Kook was saying that most of life (and Torah) is about recovering from missteps, righting our path, reawakening our best selves.
In light of the relatively small portion that teshuvah
occupies in our daily lives, write about one potential doorway towards self-reformation, and just what it would take to push open that door. How would it feel to enlarge the portion ofteshuvah
in your life?
Three days into Elul, and it’s starting to feel like, “alright, I’m fully introspected. My deeds have officially been accounted.” Indeed, the process of chesbon hanefesh has the potential of taking on the drudgery of regular, old accounting (no offense to any CPA’s or children of accountants out there).
For that reason, we are taught that Elul – אלול is, in fact, an acronym representing the line from Shir HaShirim, ani l’dodi v’dodi li, I am my beloved’s - my beloved is mine. This teaching is a reminder that the soul searching we do this month is towards the greater end of self-care, intimacy with our selves, and, potentially, drawing closer to the Holy One of Blessing. The work of Elul should be a labor of love. So, why not take the opportunity to couch this work in the language of love.
Write a love letter to some aspect of yourself that you want to celebrate. Pick an attribute, and then don’t hold back; be gushy and sentimental and over-the-top. Give the Song of Songs a run for its money, as you lay your love for yourself on thick.
Not feeling the love- write a break-up letter to some aspect of yourself that you’re ready to part with. “Take a hike, hubris.” “It’s not you, it’s me, materialism.” “We need to talk, tactlessness”