Elul – An Interview With Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Rabbi Goldhamer can you teach us more about the month of Elul? You have referred to this month as the most powerfully charged spiritual month of the Hebrew calendar.

Elul began on August 23rd this year. The Mishnah B’rura (a “clear” or simple version of the Jewish law book Shulchan Aruck) states that Song of Songs 6:3 is, according to the Rabbis, the most important text to meditate upon in the month of Elul. The first letter of the first four words of this verse spell Elul:

Ani l’dodi v’dodi lialeph-lamed-vuv- lamed

“I am connected to my beloved and my beloved is connected to me.” Elul is the time to nurture this closeness with God so that with faith and love we can immerse ourselves in the Days of Awe.

We can make our own meditation out of this verse. Visualize the letters of Elul aleph-lamed-vuv- lamed, with intention. The Rabbis were inspired by biblical verses in this way and originated their own meditations.

By pointing out the Song of Songs acronym, both the Shulchan Aruck and Mishnah B’rura, teach us that all of our thoughts should be directed to God during the month of Elul. Elul has more theological power than any other month. This is a good time to focus on healing prayers for your family, on what you need to pursue your goals and on what you need to become the better person you wish to be. When you say the silent prayers on Yom Kippur remind God of the prayers you said during Elul – this request is the “closer.”

In your most recent book, Healing With God’s Love, you included a chart that listed the tetragrammaton YHVH permutation for each month. You noted that, “If I am saying a prayer in the month of Elul, for example, I first recite the prayer as written, and then repeat the prayer, this time visualizing the appropriate Hebrew permutation of YHVH for Elul, HHVY, י ו ה ה when I say the word Adonai and so on.”

This is one of the strongest ways to connect with God. The Hebrew letters are not symbols. When you visualize the tetragrammaton and the corresponding permutations you are seeing the face of God. Permutations are like the different faces of us throughout the day, just as our face changes, God’s face changes. When we do the permutation for Elul we are connecting with God face to face.

You also wrote, “We need to turn from preoccupation with the self to an embracing of the Whole. We need to be aware that we are all connected not only to one another, but to God. We need to be aware of our own Divinity.” How might we do this during the soul searching month of Elul?

Today we seem to see everything as separate, for example, some identify as white supremacists and some as neo-Nazis. We separate ourselves, just as others separate from us.  We see good people separating themselves from their neighbors. Some parents say, don’t play with the neighbors two houses to the left of us but, to the right of us are children of a professor and you should play with them. It is made very clear in our Hebrew books that you are who you hate. When parents teach separation, their children grow to dislike their neighbors and you are that neighbor! Rabbi Akiva said, why do we love our neighbor as our self, because we are our neighbor. We are not only one with God but we are one with our neighbors.

In the news today we are “good” and “you” are bad.  We can’t live life that way. We are One with everyone — with God and with the angels. We are not separate.

The commentary to every Biblical text that references hate or separation is “We are One” and “you are who you hate.” Sefer Sha’arei Kedushah, The Gates of Holiness by Rabbi Chaim Vital, says this throughout the text.

There is one Whole in the world and when we recognize that, there will be no war. It takes time to get there and we may not feel we are One with everyone. Intellectually I know I am one with the Palestinians and the neo-Nazis but it takes time, practice and meditation to feel we are One.

This is what all the Kabbalistic texts teach us. When God created the world He created a Whole but he embraced separation — He made the heavens and earth, day and night. God recognized it would be easier for people to live with separations. How could Adam say ‘I am like Eve’ when she looks so different from him? The same with day and night, they look so different.  That’s why we study the commentaries and Kabbalistic texts. They take the Torah and the Talmud and show how we can go from the world of separation to the world of Whole — It takes meditation and study. We have to work toward Wholeness, it doesn’t come automatically. I know it is hard. It takes practice.

We human beings graduate from separation to Wholeness through meditation. Think on “you are who you hate.” For Elul, meditate on it.

Hebrew Seminary Students post their High Holiday Homework

Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer teaches that each of us has the opportunity to create a Prayer Vision in preparation for the High Holidays.  “We need to visualize, think, and write down all the wonderful things that we want to happen to us in the New Year … and this is what I’m going to do for God in return.”  Below we share examples of this prayer vision process, as well as insights into HaShem’s 13 Attributes of Mercy, which we recite during the month of Elul and the High Holidays.

A Prayer Vision
By Student Rabbi Tirtzah Israel

The upcoming High Holy days, beginning with Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah, grants us the opportunity to reflect upon the blessings and challenges of the past year, while bestowing opportunities to revel in the prospect of renewal.  We let go of the old stuff in order to improve and to re-connect to our natural-selves.

As a candidate for rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Seminary, I envision for the upcoming year that I will be responsible for the following: (1) conduct Adult Education classes in the basics of Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism; (2) serve as an assistant rabbi at a Congregation providing life-cycle services and one-on-one Pastoral Counseling, and; (3) to further develop my private practice in the healing arts using the Kabbalah and Healing Meditations as taught by my mentor and teacher Rabbi, Dr. Douglas Goldhamer.

In return, what I will do for God is be more patient with myself, less judgmental and critical. I will develop deep self-compassion so that I will have compassion to give to others in my healing practice.  I believe, as my teacher reminded me, “you can’t give what you don’t have.”  I will focus my meditative energies towards understanding the divine attributes so that I can use those energies to activate connectivity and healing.

A Prayer Vision
By Student Rabbi Alison C. Brown

It feels as though some pretty wonderful things are already happening in my life this year.  My twin girls started college and so far, so good!  Now I have more time to focus on trying not to call or text them; to finishing my rabbinic thesis; and to worrying about the November elections!

Good health is of course my number one wish for my family and all those I share this planet with.  Good health is intricately connected to the health of our planet and I also wish for this, the good health of planet earth.  I count on God, on Makom, God’s manifestation in the physical world, for Her continuous creation.  Likewise, God counts on us, her human partners to protect creation.  In return for the gift of good health, I will work harder to live sustainably and support sustainable causes.  With prayers and blessings I will thank God for all that Her creation provides for me and I will try every day to minimize my environmental footprint.  I love and appreciate our farmlands and the farmers that tend them lovingly; I love and appreciate our Lake Michigan and the volunteers that protect it lovingly.  In return for these gifts this year, I will better consider my consumer choices.  (I’d give you examples, but I’m so spoiled it’s embarrassing!)

I also wish that in our upcoming November elections my fellow Americans will embrace our long- held values of equality, justice, safety and equal opportunity for all.  I wish that every eligible American registers to vote.  I wish that every registered voter votes.  I wish that those candidates who will fight for equality, justice, safety and equal opportunity for all will get elected.  The High Holidays continue throughout October; our elections are November 8th.  The timing is, I believe, besheirt (meant to be).  While we give thought to our personal vision for the New Year, we can soul search our vision for this great country and ask ourselves, “Can we take pride in the ongoing candidates’ political discourse and the values they represent?”  And, “What can I do to support the values I hold dear within the context of a democratic society?”  The Shechina embraces us all.  I too should try my best to embrace and be empathetic towards each and every person; so too should our elected officials.   In return for God’s support of my prayer vision, I will volunteer at voter registration drives and increase my volunteer commitments in general.  Additionally I will continue to practice and improve my Hebrew skills, as well as make time to practice the many Kabbalistic meditations that Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer has taught me, in hopes that my prayers will be more efficacious and my deeds less self-centered.

God’s 13 Attributes of Mercy
by Student Rabbi Sandra Charak

It is also suggested that we recite and meditate twice a day on Adonai’s 13 attributes of God during the month of Elul until Yom Kippur.  According to Kabbalah, Adonai is closest to us during this month, in spirit, energetically speaking.  The gematria of Elul אלול   equals 13 which is also love אהב. There are 13 attributes of Adonai, showing love to His children if they listen.  This is best illustrated on Yom Kippur when we get a chance to create a new contract with Adonai promising teshuvah, our turning, returning to God.  Any changes we promise to strive for, even minor ones as long as we are moving towards becoming better people, causes Adonai to smile.

Adonai’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, or His ethical attributes are repeated twice in the Torah, in Exodus and the prophet Micah, giving them extra important meaning.  These verses are the very core of the Selichot prayers said each day during Elul until Yom KippurS’licha means forgiveness.  During the month of Elul we do teshuvah knowing that we are all one and connected in God.

The Thirteen Attributes begins with Adonai, Adonai :

  1. יהוה

Adonai – compassion before a person sins;

  1. יהוה
    Adonai – compassion after a person has sinned;
  2. אל
    El – mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need,
  3. רחום
    Rachum – merciful, that humankind may not be distressed;
  4. חנון
    Chanun – gracious if humankind is already in distress;
  5. אפים ארך

Erech appayim – slow to anger;

  1. רב חסד
    Rav chesed –plenteous in mercy;
  2. אמת
    Emet – truth;
  3. לאלפים נצר חסד
    Notzer chesed laalafim – keeping mercy unto the thousands;
  4. נשא עון
    Noseh avon – forgiving iniquity;
  5. פשע נשא

Noseh peshah – forgiving transgression;

  1. חטאה נשא
    Noseh chatah – forgiving sin;
  2. ונקה
    Venakeh – and pardoning.

 

In Preparation for the High Holidays, Check Your Vision!

Part II, by Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

During the month of Elul, our Kabbalah teaches us that each of us needs to create a Prayer Vision.  That is we need to visualize, think, and write down all the wonderful things that we want to happen to us in the New Year.  When we create a prayer vision, our Kabbalah encourages us to create a vision of spirituality that is a vision in which we are doing good deeds, mitzvot and prayers in the coming year.  Inherent in our prayer vision and vision of spirituality is that we come to the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services with a written proposal in hand to God and we say it whispering very softly during two to three of the prayers: Hashem it is worth investing in my life and making my prayer vision a reality because this is what I’m going to do for you this year.  The return on investment (ROI) is definitely worth your while.  This is the contribution I intend to make to your global of tikkun olam.  You might propose, I will give more to the poor; I will help in the food pantry at my temple; I will become much more spiritual; or, just as I am doing Modeh Ani in Elul, I will do it regularly during the year; I will go to shul at least once a month; and/or I will read at least one book next year on Judaism.  A small investment of blessings by you on me will pay off because I will be generous in so many ways next year, you won’t regret your investment in me.

We write on the paper that we are bringing to shul what we promise to do to make this a kinder more gentler year, and in exchange we ask God to bless us with good health for us and our family; a strong financial earning for the coming New Year; and that the cancer that my family member is experiencing go into remission this year.

This prayer vision and proposal of spirituality should be written and spoken every day in the month of Elul and also during the silent prayers during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  The last thing we do to make Elul the most powerful spiritual month of the year, is to read Exodus 34: verses 6-7 in Hebrew.  The words in these verses contain highly charged vibrations that move Hashem to automatically send blessings to you when you recite them aloud during Elul.  With the reciting of these verses, you create a spiritual gravity wherein God cannot help but send down blessings for the entire year for you and your family.

All of this is what makes Elul the most powerfully charged spiritual month of the Hebrew calendar.  Do it and God will send to you great blessings which will heighten the power of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in your life.

Check Your Vision

 

You’ve Got Your High Holiday Tickets, but Before You

Consider What to Wear, Check Your Vision.

 

By Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

The month of Elul, the last month before the Jewish New Year is the most important theological month of the Jewish year.  In the month of Elul, God is closer to us than at any other time and our prayers are more powerful than at any other time, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

If we focus our thinking on God during the month of Elul, we will be so much in God’s thoughts that during the High Holiday services, when we pray in temple, we will “hear” God answer.  The word “hear” can be either hearing with your ears or feeling intensely a separate being inside of you speaking to you.  I pray so intensely during Elul that when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur comes around, I actually hear by feeling a separate being answer me who lives within me.  It is an amazing, frightening and yet inspiring moment.

We know it is our tradition to say the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon wakening, but if you say the Modeh Ani prayer during Elul you will feel the intensity of the prayer greatly.   You will feel the power of God flowing through you like in no other month.

Modeh (feminine: Modah) ani l’fanecha melech chai v’kayam shehechezarta bi nishmati bechemlah rabah emunatecha.

I thank you with my very being, living, enduring King, for restoring my Divine Soul to me in compassion.  You are faithful beyond measure.

The Modeh Ani prayer strongly opens the gates of our soul so that when we recite the Modeh Ani prayer during the month of Elul, God not only returns our soul to us every morning when we wake up, but our soul becomes so pure.  This is because, with a minyan of ten, the channels or gates open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and we can hear God.  There are two channels to the soul that allow us to hear God, if these channels are open.  The first channel is Nefesh, that part of the soul that resides in our blood stream.  When that channel becomes open, it allows us to hear God from the bottom up.  The other channel that opens during Elul, when we recite the Modeh Ani, is that part of our soul called Neshama.  The Neshama resides in Keter, in the crown of our head.  When the channel Neshama opens, we hear God from the top down.  So on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashannah both channels open when we say the Modeh Ani during Elul and our godly experience is enormously intensified.  The Modeh Ani is the single most mystical prayer that is said in the month of Elul.

Here is the optimal way of saying the Modeh Ani meditation during month of Elul: 1) Say the Modeh Ani prayer.  2) While you are saying the prayer, there should be a concomitant internal dynamic that we are thanking God for the channel of the Neshama that opens up and allows the presence of God to come down to us from Ayn Sof (the One without End).  3) Also imagine that there is a channel within us, Nefesh within our bloodstream that opens up and allows God to enter into us from the bloodstream up through our whole body.  4)  Imagine a lighted candle before you.  Visualize it.  See it.  5)  With your eyes closed, imagine the candle coming closer and closer to you as you say “The light of the Lord is my soul.”  (Proverbs 20:27).  6)  Visualize the candle entering you, see yourself filled with the light of God augmented by God’s extra light coming down into you through Neshama and God’s additional light coming up to you through Nefesh.  Like a booster shot, God’s extra light adds punch and power to light you already have now with the two channels open.  Up and down, these two sparks ignite the light that already is in you.  Know that this Elul morning experience will have tremendous mystical ramifications on hearing God during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Watch for Part II Proposing a Prayer Vision!