Movement for Reform Judaism Elul Thoughts

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Movement for Reform Judaism Elul Thoughts 2014

There is the tried-and-true Chassidic story of the notorious gossip sent out by his rabbi to empty out a down pillow case in the village square. As the tiny feathers dance in the wind beyond his grasp, the rabbi remarks that these represent the consequences of his thoughtless words.

It is a compelling story and as we move through Elul, we may resolve to be more careful with our speech. Intentions, however, still need to be grounded in practice. How to go about that in our fast-paced world where an inflammatory opinion is just one click away?

We have to reverse-engineer the scattering of our words. Can we find ways to make our voice meaningful, measured and compassionate? How can we control our reactions when a cauldron of emotions and opinions is poured over us daily in the media (social and traditional), in our communities and among our friends and family?

It is traditional to recite Psalm 27 during the month of Elul and reflect on its words. Psalm 27 addresses many timely (though challenging) themes: trusting in God, seeking the Divine Presence, walking a path of righteousness and finding support even when human relationships fall apart. But one of the more telling themes is how to react against hostility:

“Im tachaneh alai machaneh, lo yira libi – im takum alai milchamah, bezot ani boteach.”
“Even if the [army camp] encamps against me, I shall not have fear in my heart.
Even if they make war against me, even in this I will feel secure.” – Ps. 27:3

The psalmist exhorts us not to immediately strike out, even if we feel cornered. It is all too easy to lash out, to argue back, to let regretful words tumble from our lips. But Psalm 27 offers an alternative: to not be intimidated by tension and to hold fast to our own sense of dignity and security. Harsh words are often spoken from a place of insecurity. If we remember that we need not relinquish full control to external factors but that God is the guarantor of both our dignity and compassion, maybe then we can step back from heated argument and create a holy and reflective space where we can heed ourselves and hear the other.

Write that letter, email or Facebook post but save it in draft and revisit it the next day. Think about the power of saying, ‘I think this is hard for me to hear right now, can we talk about it another time when I’m feeling more calm?’ Such trust in ourselves and the values of our sacred tradition will continue to build a world of justice: word by word.

Shanah tovah u’metukah.
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz


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