Turning Inward to Find Ourselves

Rabbi's Message - August 24, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

We turn our attention inward during the Hebrew month of Elul.  We begin our journey back to our truest, most pure selves.  The process takes time.  We can’t just show up for Rosh Hashanah (in-person or online) without beginning our soul work and expect to instantly be transformed into who we would like to be.  How far in advance we begin this work differs from one community to the next.  In the Sephardic community, Selichot (“forgiveness,” Jewish penitential poems and prayers) begin on the second day of Elul.  In the Ashkenazic community, we begin selichot on the Saturday night right before Rosh Hashanah, with minor exceptions depending on what day the holiday falls.  Here at Temple, we have recited Selichot at our Elul Shabbat services.  On this Saturday night, we will also participate in an evening Selichot service during which we will change out our Torah mantles to reflect the elevated importance of the High Holidays.

As we approach the holidays, the most common question being asked is about where each of us will be – at Temple or at home.  Ultimately, we will each make the best decision for ourselves and hopefully have a meaningful worship experience wherever we are physically.  Yet, this is the same question we should be asking every year, but not in the physical sense.  It is the question that God called out to Abraham before the akedah (the binding of Isaac). “Where are you?” To which he responded “Hineni,” here I am.  Hineni carries a deeper connotation of emotional presence.  I like to translate it as “Here I am, at the ready.” 

Spiritually, we must be prepared to respond to the same question: “where are you?”  God knows where you physically will be.  God wants to know where you are existentially, spiritually.   To be ready to answer, I suggest we ask ourselves the following questions:  How have I shown up for my loved ones this past year?  How have I shown up for my community?  Am I showing up and being seen in the way that I want to be seen?  Where am I now in relation to where I was last year?  What are the gifts I bring?   Am I living up to my potential? Am I fulfilling my gift as a human being?

None of these are easy questions.  Nevertheless, we need to be ready to answer them.  We want to show up on Rosh Hashanah knowing exactly where we are and, having spent this month of Elul reorienting ourselves, be ready to respond “hineni.”

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