Elul is almost over and it is almost Rosh Hashanah. Hopefully we have used our month of reflection to really look at ourselves and prepare for the heavy lifting of teshuvah. Here are two thoughts from the many resources that come my way — one I have shared before and one that comes from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. So first:
Rabbi Benay Lappe writes about the charge we have during this month of Elul to do teshuvah, and usually that means looking at the things we have done wrong in order to do better. He shares these thoughts (and gives credit to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, who gives credit to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch):
“…the single impoverished question I end up asking myself right around now is the simplistic: What have I done wrong? Now, I’m not suggesting that you completely ignore that question this year, but… What if instead of asking ourselves: What are the bad things we’ve done? We ask: What are the good things that we haven’t done? What if focusing on the good that we haven’t done but now realize we want to do, turns out to be a better motivator for changing our lives and actually living out our values than reflecting on what we did wrong?
“Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his book ‘Jewish Wisdom,’ tells the story of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the leader of the then-new Jewish movement in 19th century Germany called Orthodoxy, who surprised his students one day when, as he neared the end of his life, he insisted on traveling to Switzerland. Perplexed, his students asked him why such a journey was so important to him. In response, he explained, When I stand shortly before the Almighty, I will be held answerable to many questions. But what will I say when God asks — and he is certain to ask — ‘Shimshon, did you see my Alps?’
“Hirsch, I think, is pointing us to a radical, though not so new, theology — a God who doesn’t just want us to follow the rules, but one who wants, maybe needs, us to drink deeply from the wells of possibility, beauty, wonder, and potential good that make up our world.”
Now the second: From Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, come the weekly essays on the ethics in the parasha of the week. This is from Ki Tavo and titled “The Pursuit of Joy.” Rabbi Sacks shares that happiness, according to Aristotle, is the ultimate good; but in Judaism it is joy — simcha — that appears more often in the texts. He states: “Simcha, joy, in the Torah is never about individuals. It is always about something we share. Simcha is joy shared. It is not something we experience in solitude.” There are so many other great thoughts in this commentary that I encourage you to subscribe. It may not be the parasha of the week but it is a message for now and forever. Rabbi Sacks reminds us: “Moses’ insistence that the capacity for joy is what gives the Jewish people the strength to endure…Celebrating together binds us as a people…Joy is the ability to celebrate life as such, knowing that whatever tomorrow may bring, we are here today, under G-d’s Heaven, in the universe He made, to which He has invited us as His guests.”
Find the joy and experience your Alps — make it part of your journey for this new year!
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.