By Laura Seymour
The month of Elul has begun and we have a whole month to reflect. Some may say this is too long and some may say it is too short. Hearing the shofar each morning is a reminder that we need to go deeper into our reflection (there is an app called “Shofar” to listen on your own). Here are my favorite thoughts from one rabbi referencing another rabbi and another rabbi — we always give credit to the one who gave the response even if they got it from another and another — it keeps the chain going and reminds us that we are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us. These thoughts will guide your reflection — once it becomes a habit, we are always reviewing our days and it doesn’t need to just be during the month of Elul and through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Benay Lappe writes about the charge we have during this month of Elul to do teshuvah (return, repentance), 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 G-d 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 G-d 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.”
And for those of us who need the actual questions to guide us, try these from “Creating Authenticity — Meaningful Questions for Meaningful Moments” by Greg Giesen:
What are you most passionate about in your life and how would someone know it?
What three things do you value most in life?
What has been one of the toughest things you have had to say to someone else?
What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you see yourself in the mirror?
Which of the television shows that you currently watch reveals the most about you?
What is one of the most meaningful compliments you’ve ever received?
What do you wish you were better at and why?
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.