Elat Chayyim is every bit as fantastic as I remembered. When I arrived on Friday, I had this feeling of, "It's real! It's really here! I didn't make it up!" I walked around like I was in a dream.
The first thing we did on Friday night was daven the evening prayers, and I was transported. I really, really like the way they think about prayer here. I like the melodies, I like how easy they are to learn, I like that the focus is on saying fewer words with kavanah (intent) rather than saying lots of words. I like their approach to God-language. I like how prayer services become a vehicle for learning new things.
Saturday's classes were with Rabbi Miles Krassen. We studied a text by R' Schneur Zalman of Liadi, about teshuvah (turning/returning oneself toward God) and preparing for the Days of Awe. We covered a few interesting topics, among them ultimate reality, higher and lower levels of soul, the purpose of Yom Kippur, humans and angels, the views from different states of consciousness, the purpose of creation, transcendent God and immanent God, the true longing of the soul, Jacob-soul and Yisrael-soul, what it means that many religions have similar mystical teachings, the nature of mystical union, and how to prepare for Yom Kippur.
Saturday night we had a short havdalah service (the service separating Shabbat from the rest of the week). I always love havdalah: the singing, the wine, the spices, the flame. Word had come that there had been another bombing in Israel, so we sang a song to awaken compassion in ourselves. We sang it in Hebrew and English; the words in English are, "On behalf of my brothers and friends/ on behalf of my sisters and friends/ let me ask, let me sing, peace to you./ This is the house, the house of God/ I wish the best for you..." I found myself wondering: what does it mean to "wish the best" even for those who hurt us? Is that even possible? I found myself weeping.
After havdalah came more class; by the time we went to bed, my brain was completely full. So much to carry with me into Yom Kippur!
I know now that the melody we sang at that havdalah, the song meant to awaken compassion in ourselves, is L'maan achai v're-ai by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach:
R' Shlomo Carlebach sings "For The Sake Of My Brothers And Friends."
If you can't see the embedded video, you can go directly to it at YouTube.
This Shabbat Shuvah retreat, back in 2003, was my second time at Elat Chayyim. There was something amazing about discovering that this community of passionate and committed spiritual seekers was still real, that I hadn't dreamed it up the first time I went.
The awful news we mourned that night at havdalah was the Maxim restaurant bombing. I hope and pray for comfort for the families of the victims as Shabbat Shuvah approaches once again. I hope and pray for comfort for all who are impacted by cycles of hatred and violence, there and everywhere.
I wish I knew which texts from R' Schneur Zalman we studied with R' Miles Krassen that weekend. I'd love to return to them now. My jotted scribblings suggest that we talked about what the text called "lower" teshuvah (repenting for our misdeeds) and "higher" teshuvah (a kind of reaching-for-God in response to the knowledge that we are alienated from our Source.)
Shabbat Shuvah means "Shabbat of Return," and the name is meant to evoke teshuvah, repentance / returning-to-God. That first Shabbat Shuvah retreat I attended was when I first learned to sing "return again, return again, return to the land of your soul" -- which felt, at the time, like a chant about returning to Elat Chayyim and to conscious community, but which also carries a much deeper truth.
Shabbat, Shabbat Shuvah, Yom Kippur -- all of these are opportunities to connect with God, to make teshuvah, to re/turn to the place where we live out our highest aspirations and our hearts feel most unfettered and free.
Shabbat shalom, y'all.