Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Elul and Renewal

The Jewish month of Elul has just commenced, and it’s one month until the start of the High Holy Days. Jewish tradition teaches that the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are used to repent for one’s sins in order to make sure that one has a clean slate for the upcoming year. However, for the more pious, the entire month of Elul is used to do so. I tried using the ten-day interim period to reflect and repent once, but it was an insufficiently long enough period of time to profoundly contemplate. This is why I try take Elue to strive for a higher level of spirituality—to take the time to adequately look back at the previous year, figure out what I did correctly and where I erred, as well as how I can improve upon what I already have established.

In Jewish life, the High Holy Day period is the most well-known form of renewal. After all, most Jews who don’t show up to synagogue for the rest of the year come for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. However, people forget that Jewish practice offers many opportunities to rejuvenate and renew the soul. Every month, we observe Rosh Chodesh to realize that just like the moon, our spiritual invigoration goes through moments of waning and waxing.  Shabbat is used to take a break from the hectic work world, rest our souls, reflect, and be reenergized for the following week. We even come across it in daily Jewish life. When you wake up, you wake up, open your eyes, and say Modeh Ani, you are thanking G-d for giving you another day. As the adage goes, “Today is a new day.” Even during the prayer service we cross this theme. Thrice a day, a practicing Jew recites the Amidah. In the fifth prayer of the Amidah, we ask G-d to help us to return to the Torah so we can start anew. Any Jewish purification process, whether that would be washing the hands or going to the mikveh, cleanses us from spiritual impurities in order to give it another go. Forms of reflection, whether that would be prayer or meditation, give us the ability to look back and figure out how we can start fresh and energized for that which lies ahead of us. The same with writing in a Cheshbon HaNefesh. Finally, and more interestingly, we can find this in the great macrocosm of eschatology. Many may not know about this, but there are certain Jewish sects, mostly those of a Kabalistic bent, that believe in reincarnation. I was skeptical of the concept, but after reading this article from Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, I’m less skeptical about reincarnation than I was beforehand. However, I will still take my eschatological stance of “I objectively do not know if there is an afterlife that awaits us.”

I encourage all of you, whether you’re Jewish or not, to take a look at life and find moments of renewal. They are certainly ample in quantity. When each us take this notion seriously, “Today is a new day” will become more than just a cliché used by motivational speakers….it can become a way of being.

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