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Could you spare some CHANGE?: How I learned to survive Elul

By Pesach Rothberg - Co-Founder of CareBnB, located in Efrat Israel

Rosh Hashanah. The New Year. How will it be different from the past? How will I be different? What am I hoping to become and what am I eager to let go? It’s not so much about the people, places or events that will change as it is about how I relate to them. It’s a time to improve on relationships: to self, to others, to G!d. The term יראה is often mistranslated as “fear” but in actuality it means something so much deeper. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach used to say, “If אהבה (love) means that I’m so close, then יראה (awe) means that I’m so far away.” Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that becoming conscious of this distance is what initiates the process of return (תשובה) to closeness.

Have you ever asked someone who chose to become observant after living a life devoid of Divine devotion: “Why did you become religious?” Often the answer is, “Well, these Rabbis spoke so beautifully and proved to me the existence of G!d.” Don’t get me wrong - it’s a wonderful thing to be inspired by rational explanations of why a G!d-conscious lifestyle is the right way to live, but how much more sublimely real does it sound when the answer is, “I just want to be close to G!d.” And this is the heart of what the Hebrew month of Elul is about: Being close to G!d while holding the awareness that we are far away. Elul is the last month of the Hebrew calendar making it distant from the start, yet “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” (lyric from ‘Closing Time’ by the band Semisonic). The month of Elul is often filled with unexpected surprises and events that challenge notions of stability. Change becomes the only constant. Familiar scenes and comfort zones become violated, vulnerable spaces as if to elicit a “crying out” towards Heaven: “Help! I can’t do this on my own!” Perhaps G!d’s response to our shouts is mirrored in the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn); its blast shocking us into a reality transcendent of time and space that screams: “Awaken from the unconscious, spiritual slumber and see that THERE IS ONLY ME, NONE ELSE (אין עוד מלבדו, אפס זולתו).”

May we be blessed to take advantage of the unfamiliar shifts in reality by inviting the Almighty into the experience.

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