Rabbinic conference call with Senator Obama
Rabbis for Human Rights: DC in December!

18 September, 18 Elul

Today is the eighteenth day of September. It's also the eighteenth day of Elul. Remember that in Hebrew, the characters which make up 18 spell חי (chai), which means "life." (That's probably the one piece of gematria that most Jews today know.) So anything with an 18 in it is considered auspicious.

I learned this morning that the 18 of Elul is a significant day in the Hasidic world: birthday of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Hasidism) and birthday of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who founded Chabad Hasidism. So it's not surprising that Jewish Renewal, many teachers consider 18 Elul to have unique spiritual energy. Here's a teaching that came across a Jewish Renewal list-serv this morning about the special properties of today:

Khai Elul is the day that the pattern of time kicks energy into the Teshuvah work that has been done and that needs to be done, bringing it alive, making its urgency felt and jolting it into motion, overcoming inertia.

It is best to have some degree of Teshuvah action, a plan, or at least intention of Teshuvah work in order to best receive this aliveness.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe's father-in-law, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, said that each day from Khai Elul to Rosh Hashanah, twelve days, is the time for a monthly accounting of the past twelve months of the year. The day of Khai Elul itself is an accounting and Teshuvah for last year's month of Tishray. It is a day to fix the High Holydays of last year, to break out of the cycle of High Holyday observance that misses the heart of meaningfulness and critically needed improvement.

That's Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank (may his memory be a blessing) in his book Meta-Parshiot, the section on Ki Tavo (this week's portion), which he calls "Making Elul Alive."

I love the idea that today is a day to think about the month of Tishri last year. To reflect on last year's high holidays, where they were meaningful and where they could be more meaningful if this year I made changes in my practice, my thinking, my attentiveness. When you reflect back on the Days of Awe last year, what do you remember that you want to duplicate, and where could you benefit from doing something new? I spent a while happily contemplating that question.

Then my pre-caffeinated brain processed the part where if we're invited to spend each of the next twelve days remembering one of the last twelve months, that means there are only twelve days between now and Rosh Hashanah. Wow, there's a lot of work to do: practically (is my house ready to host my family, arriving a week from Sunday? and how about preparations for that Yom Kippur pulpit?), emotionally (am I ready for my family? is my heart ready for this new adventure?), intellectually (do I know everything I need to know?) and spiritually.

I keep returning to "Whatever gets in the way of the work, is the work." That mantra from my poetry professor Jason Shinder (may his memory be a blessing too) keeps coming back to me this month. Whatever gets in the way of my work of teshuvah -- whatever fiddly details or stress-inducing to-do lists are keeping me from the inner work I need to be doing -- those details and lists can be the locus of the inner work as well as the outer. It's always tempting to imagine that in a more perfect world, with more time and energy, we would do a better job of teshuvah; but this is the better world, right here and right now. Today's the day that's calibrated to kick our spiritual processes into overdrive: here goes.

Technorati tags: , , , .