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From Rabbi Dantowitz Elul 9, 5771 September 8, 2011
The month of Elul began last week (August 31), just after hurricane Irene arrived and just after my husband and I brought our oldest son, Ezra Seth, to his first year of college (U Mass Amherst). The name Elul can be seen as an acronymn for ani l’dodi v’dodi li, I am my beloved and my beloved is mine (which is a verse in Song of Songs). It is during this month that we draw close to God in preparation for the High Holy Days, now less than a month away.
We are accustomed to preparing for big events in our lives. Getting Ezra ready for college was one such occasion. Well, in speaking with parents of girls, I think our preparation was much simpler. But, we did have to plan and get ready for departure. In the midst of this we were hit hard by Irene, losing power for many days and having a flooded basement. Though we thought we were prepared, we did not have a generator to run our sump pumps (we do now).
As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is an important time of preparation. It is traditional to hear the shofar blown each morning and also to recite Psalm 27 twice daily. The shofar we know is our wake-up call. It is the sounding of the alarm that this is the time to get ready. Preparing meals and hosting guests is a tremendous amount of work and may also have a spiritual component. But, if we don’t begin the work of teshuva until we arrive in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, it is going to be much more difficult. The High Holy Days, or Ten Days of Repentance, are like a marathon and marathons require preparation.
Psalm 27 begins by assuring us that God is our light and our help but also acknowledges we may have fear (verse 1). Of what are we afraid at this time in our lives? Engaging in teshuva can be scary. Am I still causing pain to someone unintentionally? Have I really not worked on a particular character flaw that I meant to address five years ago?
God will shelter us in a sukkah (yes, the same name as the hut we build on Sukkot) on an evil day (verse 5). And we find the psalm asking God not to abandon us (verse 9). The end of the Psalm returns to a more hopeful tone and prays for chazak v’amatz, strength and courage.
By taking time prepare for the Holy Days, we may find ourselves more open to the work of teshuva and the New Year. It begins with preparation.
The text of Psalm 27
(1) Adonai is my light and my life. Whom shall I fear?
Adonai is the foundation of my life. Whom shall I dread?
(2) When evil-doers assail me to devour my flesh,
It is they -- my adversaries and enemies -- who stumble and fall.
(3) Should an army besiege me, my heart would not fear.
Should war beset me
Even then would I be confident.
(4) One thing I ask of Adonai,
Only this do I seek: to live in the house of Adonai all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of Adonai, to frequent his Temple.
(5) For Adonai will conceal me in his sukkah on an evil day,
and hide me in the covert of his tent,
raise me up high on a rock.
(6) And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies all around me
And I will offer sacrifices in [Adonai's] tent
with the sound of trumpets.
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to Adonai.
(7) Hear my voice, Adonai, when I cry out
have mercy on me and answer me.
(8) "For yourself," says my heart.
"Seek My face."
Adonai, I seek Your face.
(9) Do not hide Your face from me.
Do not push aside Your servant in anger.
You have always been my help.
Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, O Lord my deliverer.
(10) For my father and my mother abandon me, but Adonai gathers me up.
(11) Show me Your way, Adonai,
and lead me on a level path
because of my ever-watchful foes.
(12) Deliver me not over unto the will of my adversaries
For false witnesses have risen up against me
and those who breathe violence.
(13) If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of God,
[I would no longer be] in the land of the living.
(14) Look to Adonai.
Be strong and of good courage.
Look to Adonai ! [translation by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman]