September 9, 2009

My colleague, Rabbi Andrea London, with Julie Singer and Carol Wagner has created a course for the month of Elul for spiritual preparation for the High Holidays. Below is her teaching for the second week of that program (which includes many other components) which focuses on regret. This is an important step in teshuva and, according to Rabbi London, should not be left as a hurried practice sitting in services….if you’re reading this blog you already understand the great truth of that….

“How does one acknowledge sin?  One says: I implore You God…Behold, I regret [what I did] and am embarrassed by my deeds.  I promise never to repeat this act again.” [Rambam, Laws of Repentance 1:1, from Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days, Kerry M. Olitzky and Rachel T. Sabath]

Maimonides listed regret as the first part step necessary for teshuva..  S.Y. Agnon agrees with the Rambam about the importance of regret, as he wrote in the Days of Awe, “The essential purpose of teshuva is to regret the past and commit oneself not to return to that folly again in the future; for even if a man fasts frequently from Sabbath to Sabbath and performs every known form of chastisement, if he has not taken it upon himself not to return to his sin – behold, he is as one who takes a ritual bath while holding an unclean reptile in his hand.” [Siddur Derekh ha-Hayyim]

The following is a story to help us think about what role we must play during the month of Elul. Read the rest of this entry »


Chai Elul

September 7, 2009

This Labor Day weekend we came to chai elul. My colleague has posted interesting readings and reflections for this period following the 18th of Elul known as chai elul. Visit to add to your daily dose of Elul material.

Repairing the World

Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof . . .Do not wrong one another, but revere your God.

Dear People,

I offer you a gift. I hope you will accept it. Linked with the gift is a burden. I hope you can handle it.

My gift is freedom.

It means that each of you can do just about anything – say anything, use, build, or destroy anything within you grasp. Read the rest of this entry »


September 2, 2009

Choose Life, Choose Love

Leo Buscaglia, in Living, Loving, Learning, tells of a despondent student’s lament:

You and your ideas about life. You make me sick. You say “choose life.”  Why the hell should I?  Life chose me.  I didn’t ask to be born.  I was made to come to this earth, and if I don’t choose to live it, I don’t see why it’s my responsibility to choose it.

Buscaglia then tells of a personal experience on Valentine’s Day.  In the Hallmark store, he saw a man searching for a card.  “Damn it, why do I have to get a card for my wife?”  Buscaglia asked him, “Then why do it?”  She’d kill me!”

A few minutes later, a young lady came in and, the author said to her, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” she replied, “You know what I’m doing here?  You won’t believe it, but my boss sent me here to buy a Valentine for his wife.  Boy, if my husband ever sent another woman to buy a card for me, I’d kill him!”

Buscaglia wrote: “Here we are standing among hearts and love tokens, and we heard about two planned murders in just five minutes . And all of a sudden it occurred to me why I go around talking about ‘choose life’ and ‘choose love.’”

Then he advises, “Pay attention, listen to how many times a day you say ‘I hate this,’ ‘Oooo, take that away, I hate it. . .’ ‘I hate those people, I hate those kinds of things.’”

Instead, learn to say “I love . . .”

Then: “I love so intensely because there’s so much to know and to see and to do and to taste and to chew – especially to chew!  I’ll show you how naive I really am.  Has it ever occurred to you?  Aren’t you amazed that carrots taste like carrots and radishes taste like radishes?  And that if we mix them together, and make some kind of goulash, we can get a third taste?   I’m astounded by things like that.”

The Talmud tells us:  “Each person will some day be called to give account for all the permitted pleasures which our eyes beheld and of which we refused to partake.”

Melekh chafetz ba-chaim!

Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, Moments of Transcendence: Inspirational Readings for Rosh Hashanah, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins


September 1, 2009

I found it ironic that I read this next piece just after finishing setup of a way to post to this blog by cell phone so as not to miss a day again in Elul. I was very proud of myself for keeping my cool during that particular round of technofrenzy and successfully enabling (as the tech language has it) this short cut then read the piece posted here…

Traveler’s Advisory

We find in the Talmud a very interesting story related by Rabbi Joshua Ben Chananiah.  Once he was walking on the road, seeking his way to town.  He met a young boy at the crossroads, and asked him the way to town.  The boy, pointing his finger to the right, answered, “This road is near and far.”  He turned to the left, pointed his finger, and said, “This road is far and near.”  Rabbi Joshua took the road to the right, thinking it was the shorter, but found the way blocked by fruit gardens surrounded with fences.  He returned and found the boy who had directed him.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Push Towards Teshuva

September 1, 2009

I often have trouble really getting it that the Days of Awe are upon us, that the time to begin the teshuva process is NOW. The reading below is a gentle but firm push towards our own annual autumnal instinct to assess, regret, and repent.

A New Season of the Spirit

Summer is passing.  The days grow shorter.  The sound and colors of nature, the stirring of the wind, speak to us of changes in the world, in life and in man’s course on earth.  We are also about to enter upon a new season of the spirit, of the soul.  It reminds us of our changing lives and fortunes, of the changes that take place within our homes, our communities, our world.  It bids us look upon the changes that have taken place within ourselves . . . Awed and subdued, we stand before the threshold of a New Year.  We recall those moments in the past year when we rejoiced in our victories and achievements, our decent impulses and our generous action.  But now, in the presence of that Eternity to which a dying year compels our attention, we are mindful that our defeats were greater than our triumphs.  We failed ourselves by failing to rise to our own level.  We failed our fellow human beings by failing them in their need for our love and respect. We failed our God by worshipping ourselves.  For all these, at this turning point in endless time, we would seek forgiveness, our God.  We come to You to help us lift the burdens of our souls, for there is none of us so virtuous or so proud whose heart does not cry out, despite ourselves, for forgiveness.

Rabbi David Polish, Moments of Transcendence: Inspirational Readings for Rosh Hashanah, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins

I began this experiment in blogging with the generous donation of a year of web hosting from a member of our congregation. I found several things to be true during my first blogging foray.

1. Blogging takes incredible discipline.

2. Blogging takes a lot of time.

3. Wanting to do cool things (embed video, etc.) in a blog makes for frustrating, even excruciating experiences with technofrenzy. This is my term for being locked in combat with the technology that is supposed to make blogging and all other forms of creating content easier.

4. Blogging demands, as a prerequisite, time (not including that used for sermon writing) to read, absorb, digest and otherwise reflect on life. Without this, there is no material to post.

5. Single full time working mothers Read the rest of this entry »