This weekend we enter the month of Elul, the month leading into Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe. There are a number of special traditions associated with Elul. Throughout the ages the shofar was sounded on weekday mornings, calling the community to open their hearts to doing Teshuvah (penitence). Special meditations and contemplative penitential prayers are included in daily services. We begin to make amends to those we may have offended. Psalm 27 is the special psalm read each day of Elul and into the Days of Awe.
From the teachings of Rav Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine (1930's):
Teshuvah comes from the longing of the entire universe to become better and more pure, stronger and more elevated than its current state. At the core of this drive is a life-force that triumphs over the limited, weak character of natural existence. The repentance of an individual, and certainly of the community, draws its strength from this life-force, which flows unceasingly, at full strength. (Orot haTeshuvah 6:1)
The Parsha this week, Re'ey, highlights the choices that we are asked to make each and every day. From Deuteronomy 11:
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse- the blessing if you obey the commands of the Ineffable your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Ineffable your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. When YHVH your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses."
There is a lot of work to be done in the month ahead. We yearn for Teshuvah in our lives, in our country and between nations. A small act of Teshuvah took place this past Sunday when some 40 or so members of JIDS, the Jewish Islamic Dialogue Society, visited the new Museum of Palstinian People on 18th Street NW. The museum, though cramped, gave us an opportunity to listen to a Palestinian narrative through videos and exhibits of the history of the Palestine People, their culture and their struggle. Years ago, I had met the founder at the Tent of Nations, his family's environmental and peace center near Bethlehem, devoted to building bridges between the Palestinian people and others. It was important for us to visit the museum. Learning about the Palestinian people was an act of Teshuvah. In Israel and Palestine today, there are hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians building relationships. I hope the museum will feature those groups in the future.
As we begin this new month of Elul, may we find the courage to confront our own transgressions and begin to heal ourselves through acts of love, acts of resistance to tyranny and injustice, and, acts of compassion towards others. - Khodesh Tov, Reb David