This year I will use Imabima’s #BlogElul prompts to do my own private self examination as well as to inform some of my blog posts. I invite you to join me!
“Decide” — that’s the first step. Elul is a month for self-examination, but it won’t examine itself unless I decide to do it. Do I want to be a better person? A better rabbi? A better Jew? A better spouse? A better mother? A better friend? Am I willing to put in the work and take the risks to improve?
Not to decide is to decide. Someone said that, back in the 60s, and it was all over posters in college dorms in the 70s. I can stand around and twiddle my thumbs, but that is a decision, too.
I’ve decided on my Elul study project (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah, Kehati commentary) and my spiritual reading (Alan Lew’s book) but the big study project is my relationships. I need to make appointments, meet with people, check in.
Have you decided about your plans for this month of introspection? If there’s anything you want to share, or commit to publicly, the Comments are open.
B’reisheet – “In the Beginning.” That’s the Hebrew name for the book of Genesis, the first word in the book. “Bet,” the letter at the very beginning, is a squat little letter. It began, we’re told by scholars, as a pictogram of a house. All I can say is: lousy house. It was more of a sukkah than a house: three walls and an iffy roof.
Beginnings are like that. They are awkward and often half-formed. We dress them up with ceremonies like “Orientation” or “Opening Day” or “Prologue” but at some point, it’s just me and whatever it is I’m beginning to do, and I’m generally not very good at it. Getting good, or at least comfortable, will come (maybe) but beginnings are awkward.
There comes a point, during this month of mending our ways and adjusting our aim, that we have to begin something new. It might be a new behavior, or a new attitude, or a new mitzvah. It will probably not feel “natural” and it may be downright uncomfortable. If I have been accustomed to driving too fast, then driving the speed limit will feel awkward and slow. If I have acquired a habit of lying, or drinking too much alcohol, or gambling, I will probably find those things so difficult to change that I may need to ask for help.
Let’s not let the awkwardness of beginning stop us from growing into the best selves we can be. Like kids learning to ride their bikes, we’ll wobble and laugh nervously and fall over occasionally. That is OK. The important thing is to begin.
This post is part of the series #BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommers. Participants mark the passage of time during the month of Elul with social media meditations on topics connected with the High Holy Days and the month of Elul.
Tractate Niddah (30b) of the Talmudrecords a folktale that I find comforting and infuriating: while we are in utero, an angel comes and teaches us the whole of the Torah. Then as soon as we are born, the angel slaps us on the mouth so that we will forget it all. The mark that is left is the philtrum, the vertical dent between the mouth and nose.
Thus when we study Torah, we are not learning for the first time; we are instead striving to remember the Torah that we already know. As a teacher, my task is to help my students remember.
I find that when I remember that, I am a much better teacher.