We are approaching the high holy days of the year. Beginning on the first day of the month of Elul, many people begin a process of self-reflection that culminates on Yom Kippur.
In the past few years, I have had the privilege of participating in an Elul group. Basically, every day, I am now reading a different set of tehillim (psalms). In addition each member of the group is assigned a particular day to send out a d’var Torah (this literally means a “word of Torah” which is a lesson interpreting a text) and to make a contribution to charity in the zechus (merit) of everyone in the group.
This is what I wrote for my d’var Torah for the group. I have tried to translate many of the Hebrew words, in order to make it more understandable for people who may not be familiar with them.
I would like to thank Caryn and Ruthie for creating this group, and for their willingness to maintain it! I really appreciate the structure that it creates for me to strengthen myself in my avodas Hashem (Divine service) during this auspicious time of year.
This is my third year participating in this Elul group. Like others have shared, I usually wait for a moment of inspiration to motivate me to write my d’var Torah.
This year, it has been a real struggle.
It is not that I haven’t tried to get inspired. I listened to shiurim (classes) on line and went to shiurim (classes) in my community. And still, nothing.
I feel like I should make a song out of it – “oh where oh where has my inspiration gone – oh where oh where can she be???”
On the bright side, I have done more learning and soul searching to write on absolutely nothing than ever before. It has been a humbling experience, to say the least.
Finally, at the very last moment, the content and structure of this d’var Torah emerged. At that moment, I felt a deep connection and gratitude, not only to Hashem (God) but to both my parents, who indirectly inspired this d’var Torah and gave me direction.
“אני לדודי ודודי לי”
I am to my Beloved [Hashem] and my beloved [Hashem] is to me. (Shir Hashirim 6:3).
Seek out Hashem when He is nearby, call out to Him when He is near.(Yeshaya 55:6)
According to Chazal (the sages) the pesukim (verses) above refer to the month of Elul. Beginning on the first day of the month of Elul, Hashem is extremely close to us. He is waiting for us to return to Him, repent and to strengthen ourselves in Torah, tefilah (prayer) and good deeds.
Our relationship with Hashem is two-fold. Hashem is our loving Father, and on Rosh Hashanah, we crown Hashem as our King.
The seforim (holy books or writings) speak about the 7 week transformation period between Tisha B’Av (The 9th of Av) and Rosh Hashanah (New Year). “On Tisha B’Av, we mourn the exiled Shechinah (the feminine component of God) and long for the restoration of His Glory. And, on Rosh Hashanah, we proudly and openly coronate Hashem as the King of the Universe.”
This year, during Tisha B’Av, in the midst of our mourning for the Bais Hamikdash, (The Temple) it occurred to me that there is a tremendous lesson of hope.
When the Bais Hamikdash stood, we had an opportunity to directly connect to Hashem and feel enveloped by His immanence.
On a spiritual level, the world was a different experience. We could bask in the glow of His presence and continually renew and repair our relationship with Hashem.
However, like spoiled children, we didn’t appreciate this beautiful gift. We felt scared and intimidated by the intimacy of this connection. We turned our backs on Hashem. We told Hashem that we didn’t want the connection and the responsibilities that it entailed.
Despite multiple warnings from the prophets, on the 9th of Av, Hashem gave us what we what we asked for. He distanced Himself from us. And now, Hashem no longer has a place to dwell in our midst.
Today, we must struggle through prayer and meditation to catch a glimmer of the Divine Presence that we once felt and experienced as a palpable reality. God is here, but we must work harder if we want to connect to Him and feel His protection and care. Our change in status was a rude awakening!
But, it also demonstrates our ongoing, dynamic and mutually reciprocal connection to Hashem. Since He listened to us when we turned our backs on Him, the opposite must also be true: He will listen to us when we call His name and seek Him out.
Hence, if we seek His guidance and comfort, we will find it. And, if we want to do everything on our own and without His guidance, and direction, He will let us do that too.
It always amazes me how in my moments of distress and pain, when I call out to Hashem, in ways that I could never have imagined, He answers me.
As an example, on a personal level, this year has continued to be very stressful and difficult. There were moments when I truly felt that my situation was intolerable and I didn’t know how I was going to manage.
During one of those moments, out of the blue, the daughter of a dear friend sent me this:
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” ― L.R. Knost
Then, the daughter of one of my patients sent me this:
“May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” …” ― Saint Terese of Liseaux
Finally, my mother spontaneously sent me this text:
“Hi! Yesterday, I was out walking and reflecting on whatever floated into my thoughts. Who came floating in? You! And I thought how competent you are. How proud I am of you. How well you are keeping yourself sane while keeping your ducks in a row. Love Mom”
I cannot fully describe how much this all meant to me. I felt like Hashem was holding me in His arms and telling me, “There, there, Carol … It is going to be OK… This too shall pass… You are doing a good job.”
All of us know, in our minds at least that Hashem exists. But, do we feel it? We know intellectually, that Hashem keeps us alive, but do we actually feel that way?
When we do any act, think any thoughts, feel any feelings, we should self-reflect deeply and feel that it is only because Hashem helps us. Hashem can be sensed in our hearts and we must willingly make the choice to align our will with His will.
So, this year, during this month of Elul, and these days of teshuva (repentance), may we all be blessed to feel Hashem’s love and protection. May we strive to feel His presence and align our will with His will, with simcha (joy) and with achava (love).
May we all merit a good year and be written in the book of life.
For my tzedakah (charity), I have made a donation to the Friendship Circle, which is a wonderful organization that provides programs for Jewish children with special needs.