Friday, August 27, 2010

Shofar Callin' (from G-dcast)

Parshat Shofar Callin' from

More Torah cartoons at

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Other People Talking Elul

Amichai Lau-Lavie is doing a great job with his blog, talking "prepent" - a great riff on the idea of preparing ourselves for the repentance season.

Check it out at:
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Marking The Years

We have a great back-to-school tradition in our family. My son's school has a lovely mural painted in the main hallway, and when I took him in for his kindergarten orientation, I snapped a photo in front of it. And then I did it again for first grade, and second grade, and just this week, for third grade.

It's quite remarkable to look at the photos.

And of course, this milestone-marker got me to thinking about Elul. (Is anything else really on the brain?)

How often do we "check up" on ourselves - how much have we "grown" in the last year? How much has changed about ourselves and what do we hope will change in the next year? I know parents who do all sorts of milestone-markers with their kids - they fill out questionnaires or conduct yearly video interviews. But what about as adults? How do we track our progress? How do we tell if we've missed the mark or hit the nail on the head?

And that's what Elul is for. We're almost halfway through. Are you checking in with yourself?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Running the Route

Today is the day before the first day of school.
The school buses are out running their routes, practicing for the big day.

The kids are getting haircuts, new shoes, and new backpacks.
They're sharpening pencils and labeling folders.

Some parents are suppressing their glee and others are holding back tears.
Maybe it's the first-first day. Maybe its one of the last-first days. Maybe they can't let go.

I've never had any trouble associating Rosh HaShanah with a new beginning because those sharp pencils and new erasers help me out.

I think it's no wonder that the two go hand in hand. A new eraser to help us fix the mistakes we've made over the last year. New pencils to write the story of our future. New teachers to guide us along the way. New bus routes to help us get there.

Are you ready?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Let the Shofar Sound

It's traditional, during the month of Elul, to blow the shofar daily.

The shofar reminds us - "wake up! get ready! don't delay!"

The shofar stirs in us a passion, it speaks to something deep and primal. There's nothing quite like the sound of the shofar.

Have you heard the shofar yet this Elul?

Here's another use for the shofar...just in case you need a laugh along with your dose of inspiration!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Make an Excuse....or Grow Instead

Repentance...the true work of repentance...

No excuses can replace that.

You can make excuses or you can start the real work of personal growth.

Which one will it be for you this year?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sermons? What sermons?

The month of Elul is, for most rabbis, a month of writing. There are so many other aspects to the holidays BESIDES sermons, but we all seem to focus on our sermons - the words that we will say to our congregations that will hopefully move, inspire, enlighten, entertain, amuse, interest, and not annoy them.

No small task, right?

Yesterday's Jewel of Elul was by Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater. I don't know him, but he did a great job of capturing the way that I feel about sermon-writing:

Writing sermons brings a myriad of emotions for me: fear, excitement, nervousness, and anticipation.  Will I inspire, challenge, comfort, educate, or transform those listening?  Will I reach one person with my message? 

The blank screen that unfolds before each sermon is my darkness - formless and void.  And then I begin to create.  As I sit down to write, I am aware of this creation teaching, for it calls me to find the message needed for the moment. 

Oh yes, Josh. (Can I call you Josh? I feel a kinship, let me tell you.) This is it - the blank screen, the emotions, the desire to "get it right" - and person is enough for me too.

It's a long shot, but I think I'll get there.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When the Cake Falls

For me, part of any holiday preparation involves getting into the culinary spirit as well. Elul, of course, makes me think of honey cake, apples, and round challah.

So today I tested a new honey cake recipe. (Is it really fair to say it's new if I've never made honey cake before? Well, it's new to me.)

I made this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which is really from Marcy Goldman's great cookbook.

Except it didn't quite come out the way I hoped it would.
The middles of all the cakes fell in.
And then they stuck to the pan when I flipped them out.
So they were messed up on the bottom AND the top. 
But the upside? It tasted delicious.

Sometimes things don't go quite the way we've planned.
Life is unpredictable. Sometimes the middle falls in.

We work hard during this month to get it all right...we work hard to right our wrongs and fix our mistakes.

Sometimes it's not pretty.

But at the end...when we worked hard and spent the time in teshuvah and personal growth....
it tastes delicious.

So that's what I'm aiming for this month.
How about you? Share your Elul hopes here...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's a Big Carwash Out There

This is my favorite analogy for thinking about the High Holy Days. As I prepare for all that is coming up (gulp) soon, I usually re-read all my favorite materials. This one came up today.

My kids love to go to the carwash. When I shift the car into neutral, they squeal with delight. They think it's so cool to sit in the car while the water sprays on all sides, the sponges swish, and then there's the big dryer and the car is all shiny, squeaky clean!

And what the kids don't realize, but I certainly do, is that while the outside of the car is shiny and clean, the inside is NOT. There are smudges on the windows, there are goldfish cracker crumbs everywhere, and there are toys and books strewn all around. The only way to REALLY get the car clean is with the super car wash, the one where you get out and let the guys inside. They bring the vacuum and really clear it all out.

The holidays are the same. It's possible to go to services, shift into neutral, and let the conveyor belt move you along. You get hit on all sides - music, rabbi, sermon, shofar, Torah....before you know it, it's over and you walk out feeling shiny and new.

But does sitting in synagogue really do it? Just those few short hours? Probably not. The only way to make personal change is to get inside and vacuum out all the goldfish cracker crumbs. It starts now, it starts with Elul and with these weeks of preparation. It starts with allowing yourself to be opened up to the possibilities of growth and change and not just coasting along, hoping it will just happen for you.

Are you ready?

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Healthy Elul

So I got a sneak peek of Chana's post for a Healthy New Year (go and subscribe to her blog so you'll get to see it when it comes out!) and it got me to thinking about how the holidays seem to be all about internal checkups. What kind of person have I been, what kinds of actions have I taken against and for others this year?

But her post made me think about the physical as well. Have I taken care of my body this year? Have I eaten healthy foods, have I made good choices about the various products and foods that I put into and onto my body in the previous year? And with that...what can I do to do better in the New Year? How can I take better care of my physical self, which will in turn help me to take better care of my mental, emotional, and spiritual self?

So here are some of my suggestions for a healthier Elul, which might lead to a healthier year:

1. Get a physical. When was the last time you saw your doctor for a well-visit? Most of us are incredibly careful about taking our children in for their annual physical, usually egged on by the forms that we have to fill out for camps, sports and school. But once we outgrow the need for those forms, we sometimes skip out on the annual physical as well. Get checked out. Elul is a good time to schedule that checkup!

2. Get a new toothbrush. I always replace my toothbrush at Pesach, but obviously it needs to be replaced more often. When was the last time you did that? Worn-out toothbrushes can harbor bacteria, which you certainly don't need.

3. Run your cosmetics and other products through the Cosmetic Safety Database. While we certainly can't eliminate all toxins from our bodies and our world, we can certainly learn something and be knowledgeable about the products we are using. Maybe this is the time to change just one product to a "healthier" version - or maybe you don't need that artificial fragrance at all! It can't hurt to examine this aspect of your life.

4. Check the expiration dates of cosmetics, medicines, foods, etc. Do you really want all that old stuff cluttering up your medicine cabinet, your pantry, your life? Just as we declutter our heads before Rosh HaShanah, let's declutter our shelves too.

5. Wash your hands. Are you a regular hand-washer? Now is the time to add this simple step into your routine. Conveniently, the holidays fall right before the flu and cold season begins so it's plenty of time to get your habits in place to wash your hands.

6. Consider eating less meat. Take one day a week to be a "meatless" day or even two days! You know it's healthier, it's also better for the environment, and it's a simple thing to do. I'm sure this isn't the first place that you've read this suggestion - so give it a try, just until the holidays. You never know, you might like it!

7. Try a new exercise. Take a yoga class or try pilates. Spin or do a new aerobics class. Take your walk along a different route. Get your body moving and grooving - you might find that it helps with the spiritual side of Elul as well!

8. Hug your family. Physical contact with others is important for personal well-being. Don't let yourself get caught up in the separation of modern life, but instead remember to hold hands, give hugs, rub backs.

9. Drink a cup of tea. Studies show that green tea is good for you, but I also think that there's something soothing about holding a nice hot cup of carefully made tea. It's also a good way to remind you to slow down and look around...don't let each day go by so fast.

10. Eat a cookie and enjoy it. Being healthy isn't always about feeling guilty when you "eat the wrong thing." So once in a while, have a cookie or a piece of candy, don't forget to treat and indulge yourself occasionally. And remember that a treat is best when it doesn't happen all the time!

What are some of your tips and ideas for a healthy new year?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Smell the Elul-Scent

“In the shtetl of Lubavitch, on the Shabbat preceding the month of Elul, though summer still lingered and the day was bright and sunny, there was a change in the air; one already smelled the Elul-scent, a teshuvah-wind was blowing.” (Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak)

Do you feel the “Elul-scent” in the air? In this month we have the ability to re-connect with ourselves; each day we have the chance to work on breaking down the walls that stand between us and the holy days that lie before us…each day we work on rebuilding our relationships – with ourselves, with each other, and with God.

Would you like to change something in your life? The month of Elul provides us with the impetus to do it. Special energy radiates through this month, a month known as the “month of accounting,” an accounting at the end of the spiritual fiscal year. What do you want to change? Perhaps it is a relationship that you want to make better. Perhaps it is a psychological pattern that you get stuck in. Perhaps it is a job, a habit…you name it.

Now is the time. Elul is the time.

Friday, August 13, 2010

May I...

The words of  Rabbi Rami Shapiro:

May I cultivate the strength to look honestly at my actions.

May I cultivate the honesty to admit when I have been wrong.

May I cultivate the understanding to know how best to make amends.

May I cultivate the courage to ask for forgiveness.

May I cultivate the compassion to grant forgiveness when asked.

May I cultivate the humility to surrender myself to God.

May I cultivate the wisdom to know I do this not for myself alone but for all the world.

May the coming year be one of sweet delight to all.

The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, I'll be blogging (except on Shabbat) a thought for each day to help with your month of preparation...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Make the Most of Elul

There are many traditions associated with this time of the Jewish calendar that are used to heighten the importance and seriousness of these days of the month of Elul. Here are some to try this month:

Recite Psalms every day to open your heart.
Make cheshbon ha-nefesh, a daily moral inventory, before going to sleep.
Practice shmirat halashon, conscious speech, and avoid gossip.
Give tzedakah daily.
Send Rosh HaShanah cards and tell people how important they are to you.
Take a walk each day to connect to the world around you.
Do something that makes you happy.
Learn something new during this period of time.
Make time each Shabbat for rest and relaxation.
Do something nice for your body to honor it and dedicate its actions to the good.
Buy something new to wear on Rosh HaShanah.

Do you do any of these? Or do you engage in other customs to get ready? For many people, I know that their list also includes preparing meals and all that. How do you prepare spiritually amidst the mundane details of table setting and menu planning?

The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, I'll be blogging (except on Shabbat) a thought for each day to help with your month of preparation...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Poem to Begin Elul

The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, I'll be blogging (except on Shabbat) a thought for each day to help with your month of preparation...

as the new moon Elul approaches
the days begin to grow shorter
as the new moon Elul approaches
our minds begin to wander
toward the healing breaths
of the days of awe.

each day dawns
beckoning me to
pay attention
get ready!

my heart moves toward
the days of awe.
am i ready?
have i asked the questions?
forgive me
pardon me
raise me up
renew me
refresh me
bring my soul back home
so that i may fill myself up

plant the seeds of the new year
and watch them grow
small shoots of green that begin to poke up
during this month
they blossom and flower
into the days of awe
and i flower with them
reaching my petals, like a flower,
up to the Holy One.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Return for Elul...

The month of Elul is's coming. (Starts next week, by the way.)

I've decided to "Blog the Elul" as it were....a moment to revitalize this "rabbinic blog" perhaps? Who knows.

But come back daily for a dose of pre-holiday thoughts. Some will be long. Some will not. Some will change your thinking about teshuvah and preparation. Some may be like a visit with an old friend, comfortable and memory-provoking.

If you're not already subscribed to this blog, feel free to do so by clicking HERE. If you'd prefer to receive this blog via email, click HERE to set that up. (Simple and spam-free!)

While you're setting yourself up for a month of inspiration, why not also go ahead and subscribe to the Jewels of Elul, a really lovely daily email for the whole month.