6 Elul: Know & Console

Studying about the 6th day of Elul in 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays by Simon Jacobson, I am struck, once again, at the brilliance of the structure of Jewish time.

Jacobson reminds me that this first week of Elul is the fourth week in the Seven Weeks of Consolation that began after Tisha B’Av. Jacobson teaches the midrashic explanation of the progression of these seven weeks as a dialogue between us and God.

Week One: God sends the prophets to console the people after the destruction of the temple. (“‘Be conforted, be comforted, my people,’ says your God” – Isaiah 40:1)

Week Two: The people ask why God is sending comfort through the prophets instead of comforting them directly. (“And Zion said: God has forsaken me; my God has forgotten me” – Isaiah 49:14)

Week Three: The prophets tell God that the people are not comforted. (“O afflicted, storm-tossed, unconsoled one…” – Isaiah 54:11)

Week Four: (this first week of Elul) God begins comforting the people directly. (“It is I, I am The One Who comforts you…” – Isaiah 51:12)

Week Five: God’s consolation intensifies (“Sing out, O barren one, who has not given birth, break out into glad song and be jubilant…” – Isaiah 54:1)

Week Six: God’s consolation becomes more powerful and profound. (“Arise! Shine! For your light has arrived and the glory of God has shined upon you.” – Isaiah 60:1)

Week Seven: The people rejoice in God’s consolation (“I will rejoice intensely with God, my soul shall exult with my God…” – Isaiah 61:10)

Jacobson teaches that the reason God does not console the people from the beginning is to remind us that we have the power to console one another. “One vulnerable person can console another,” Jacobson writes, “It is a great gift that one person can give to antoher.”

And once we are consoled, we are then ready for the renewal and rebirth that comes with the New Year.

Jewish time, the wisdom of the rabbis in structuring it in such a way and framed by such texts – it is nothing short of brilliant.

Most people are not easily comforted. Most painful situations are ones that require comfort over time. Someone who tells you they’re sorry for what you’re going through but does not check in to see how you are doing a week or a month later has probably failed to comfort you. I know that I have a hard time accepting comfort and that I am not always as generous as I could be in seeking out opportunities to offer comfort to others. It is on my list of things to work on in the coming year.

At the same time, I am immensely grateful for those who know how to comfort me, those who remember to check in on me, and those who allow me to comfort them in their times of suffering. Jacobson is so right, it is a gift we give each other. I will endeavor to remember that. I will continue to teach it in his name.

Pulling ourselves out of grief takes time. The period of mourning that preceded Tisha B’Av, where we allow ourselves to descend into sorrow – that’s only a few weeks. It takes longer to come through to the other side; to comfort and be comforted. Seven weeks, with the hope of renewal at the end of it – a light shining, beckoning us to work through the pain and believe in our ability to work for a better next time around.

I’ll be honest. Today I had a hard time feeling optimistic about the future. Luckily, it’s only Week Four. I have a few more weeks to get my head in the game; to find strength in the comfort of friends, family and community, and to find strength in my ability to comfort others in turn.

It is Week Four.
Jacobson says that I can expect God to begin comforting me directly.
It is Shabbat.
If I can open myself to experiencing God’s comfort, what better day to start?

download (1)

5 Elul: Accept

Accept
that this year probably won’t go as expected;
that your family won’t suddenly be less disfunctional;
that true change –
t’shuva
requires hard work and not just best intentions.

Accept
that you cannot go back;
that you don’t get a re-do;
that you can only move forward and
hope
that you might do better next time a similar set of circumstances
present themselves.

Accept
that not everyone who hurt you will appologize;
that not everyone you’ve hurt has told you that you hurt them;
that some of them will appologize and then hurt you again
and that you will likely do the same.

Accept your humanity
and theirs.

Accept
that this year may be your last;
that you need to treat it as if it were;
with humility and courage and realistic expectations.
Accept
that this year may not be your last;
that you won’t get it right either way;
that you will make some old mistakes and some new ones.

Accept who you are.
Then keep bettering yourself.
And then
accept
that you will still be you
and still need more bettering
tomorrow.

1 Elul

Breathe in.
A new beginning is on the horrizon,
fast approaching,
ready or not.

Breathe out.
It is okay to be anxious.
There is much that is unknown.
It is okay to question:
Will you make it through?

Breathe in.
Elul tells us it’s time to prepare;
brace yourself;
pace yourself;
steady and ready yourself;
A new beginning is coming.
Time is running out.

Breathe out.
This is not the first year,
the first change,
the first time
you’ve had to start over.
Make your lists;
you know how this goes.

Breathe.
You can be ready.
You can make it through.
You know the steps.
You know the tune.
You can do this.

Elul doesn’t mean to terrify us,
just to warn us:
This time is coming to a close.
A new time is heading our way.
Move toward it.
Embrace it.
What choice do you have?

Breathe.