Even Adam Kvetched About the Long Winter Nights!

We all know the story of Hanukkah. But, there is another narrative that many of us don’t know. Last week, Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub taught us a lesser known story that prominently features Adam.

The better known Hanukkah story is derived from the Babylonia Talmud, Shabbat 21b. The text tells us that the Greeks entered our Temple and defiled all of the oil in the Sanctuary. When the Hasmonean monarchy rose up, defeated the Greeks and entered the Temple they found one remaining vial of oil sealed with the imprimatur of the high priest. This vial, as expected, contained oil for only one day. The Hasmoneans lit the oil and it burned for eight days and nights. The following year an eight day holiday was established for hallel, praise and thanksgiving. This text has given rise to the widely known interpretation that Hanukkah is about the miracle of the oil, defeating oppression and celebrating religious freedom.

Talmud Avodah Zarah 8a tells an alternative Hanukkah story that portrays Hanukkah as Adam’s encounter with the winter solstice (translation from Sefaria.org.)

“ר לפי שראה אדם הראשון יום שמתמעט והולך אמר אוי לי שמא בשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי וחוזר לתוהו ובוהו וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים עמד וישב ח’ ימים בתענית [ובתפלה]

With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer.

We read on:

כיון שראה תקות טבת וראה יום שמאריך והולך אמר מנהגו של עולם הוא הלך ועשה שמונה ימים טובים לשנה האחרת עשאן לאלו ולאלו ימים טובים הוא קבעם לשם שמים והם קבעום לשם עבודת כוכבים

Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.

Our text makes reference to the festivities of later generations because Adam’s two observances resemble the pagan Roman holidays Calenda and Saturnalia. It could be said that the Rabbis use this opportunity to trace these “revisionist” festivals back to Adam who established them for the sake of Heaven, that is giving thanks to God, whereas the Romans established them for the sake of the stars, i.e. idolatry.

While Avodah Zarah 8a doesn’t overtly mention Hanukkah, this text ties Hanukkah to the winter solstice and Adam. Hanukkah then did not begin with the Hasmoneans, it started with Adam. We offer this lesser known Hanukkah story in recognition of the salient symbol here – the gift of increasing light. In many ways this text establishes a universal holiday. We wish you all Ramadanadawalichristmakwaanzukkah!™

 

Rosh Hashana – Taking Root With You!

Sefer Assiyah
The Book of Making

September 2017

Recently, on an extraordinarily mild and sunny day in Chicagoland, I went to a nature center with my son and grandson. We peered and searched through aquariums, terrariums and pools of water — home to local critters. We spent a lot of time with the turtles – who knew they were such adept communicators when stressed out with their roommates?!?!

We also walked the boardwalks and trails strewn with half-eaten acorns. I did not see my grandson’s pockets full of them! Yes, I can pretend minor infractions like ‘don’t pick the wildflowers,’ don’t really count, but we were nearing fall. It was Elul and Rosh Hashanah’s accounting was approaching.

Rosh Hashanah is like an acorn upon the ground. It awaits the coming year in the cycle of life. Its growth depends on rain and microbial rich soil, just as we water our hopes and nurture our souls in anticipation of our dreams establishing roots in the coming year.

The Talmud says, “On Rosh Hashanah, all the inhabitants of the earth stand before God, as it says in the Thirty-third Psalm, ‘[God] fashions their hearts as one, and discerns all their actions together.’” Rosh Hashanah brings the choice of all choices – did I actively choose to learn and grow towards becoming a better person and what will I do with the opportunity to walk the earth in the coming year?

As much as I would like to bask in the sun and hibernate in a womb of soil as the seasons turn, more is expected of me. The gift of consciousness gave me the blessing and the curse of seeking more to life as well as the awareness that there are sacred parameters and goals – i.e. God, as best as we can intuit Her. As Rabbi Alan Lew wrote, “The central imperative of Judaism, I believe, is to recognize and manifest the sacred in everything we do and encounter in the world.” I’ve often wondered how I can live with the grace and confidence of an oak tree, an orchid or a heron. I think this Jewish imperative is the way.

“Ethically speaking, these Days of Awe picture us standing in the full light of God’s scrutiny and wondering if we have remained true to the purpose for which we were created,” writes Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman. “Have we taken proper responsibility for the world, or has our selfishness overcome our altruism?” Looking the other way as one stuffs their pockets full of acorns is a metaphor. Yes, there’s a line between unfaltering, holier than thou rightness and holding life lightly aware of its sacredness. One approach separates us and one embraces us all. On Rosh Hashanah God fashions our hearts as one. This is the world’s birthday. We are Adam Kadmon. We are all one soul and responsible for each other. We are a collective species; a collective holographic universe of Five Worlds.

And what stands between us? Rebbe Shapira writes, “’And I stand between God and you’ (Deuteronomy 5:5.) The Baal Shem Tov explained this to mean that the ‘I’ – the ego, the sense of selfness that we feel and that drives us to seek only our own selfish needs – is what stands between God and one’s true self – the soul. But how do we get past the barrier imposed by the ego-self? Only by mutually nurturing relations with other human beings – you cannot do it by yourself. This is also alluded to in the verse ‘And I stand’ – when I stand by myself, then there is the barrier ‘between God and man.’”

I am a cup in the Friend’s hand.
Look in my eyes. The one who holds me
is none of this, but this that is so filled
with images belongs to that one who is without form….

— Rumi

Just as we can’t picture God, we can’t always picture our best selves, but I believe that I am good, just as you are.

It takes people like you and me,
working to make ourselves kinder and more loving,
to produce positive change in the world.

— Londro Rinzler

 

http://www.wikihow.com/Grow-an-Oak-Tree-from-an-Acorn

L’Shana Tovah!

Alison

Be a Light, Come What May

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observed that silence connects the Torah portion B’midbar and the celebration of Shavuot. It is the silence of the desert that counts in Judaism.  “Listening is the supreme religious art.” Having said that, Sacks reminds us that in Exodus 24:7, “’All that God says, we will do and we will hear [ve-nishma].’ It is the nishma – listening, hearing, heeding, responding – that is the key religious act.”

Reaching out to Hebrew Seminary supporters, our committee wrote, “At a time in our world when many of us see dark clouds on the horizon, others see recurring rays of hope. For 25 years amidst the flow of changing tides, our seminary has been training rabbinical students to be a Light, come what may.” I am a “recurring rays of hope” kind of person and I believe that we all bring light and a piece of the truth to our listening and responding. On Shavuot, as we reconnect with our religious and spiritual responsibilities it is in the listening that we learn a more open, broader truth. With this truth we strive to “do” immersed in the light of Anochi, the light of the Infinite who continually brings us out of narrow places.

I like Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s, z”l, recognition that the whole world is a teacher:

“Then I come to the B’rakhot [in Birkhot Ha’Shahar, the blessings of the morning] that are the ‘blessings’ of awareness and mind, and I end up giving thanks that sleep has passed from my eyes. I then prepare my mind for learning this day. So I say everything today is going to be a learning experience: Barukh attah Ha’Shem … asher kid’shanu be’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu la’asok be’divrei Torah,  or  al divrei Torah.  ‘Blessed are You … who connects us with holiness by commanding us to engross ourselves in the words of teaching.’ So the whole world is a teacher, and I open myself to it.”

In today’s world our inclination might be to keep quiet and let things play out. Still, if we have done our open listening, prayer and meditation we need to bring our truth to the table. The listening and responding can be religious acts. As my favorite American philosopher Ken Wilber writes, “You were allowed to see the truth under the agreement that you would communicate it to others (that is the ultimate meaning of the bodhisattva vow).  And therefore, if you have seen, you simply must speak out.  Speak out with compassion, or speak out with angry wisdom, or speak out with skillful means, but speak out you must.” We are all equally responsible for our interwoven future.

Shavuot then is the time to not only stand once again at Sinai to receive from God that which we spiritually know to be true, but to receive truths as they are received by others and to dialogue about those truths. “Our physical pluralism”, says Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, is matched by an intellectual pluralism for which, the Rabbis say, God is to be blessed: ‘When one sees a crowd of people, he is to say, ‘Blessed is the Master of mysteries,’ for just as their faces are not alike, so are their thoughts not alike.’” Baruch Rab-bee l’sodim.

Tu B’Shvat – Sing Praise, Happy Birthday, Then Back to Work!

“From the mystical perspective, reality is always both broken and perfect all at once,” Rabbinic Pastor Estelle Frankel says in an allusion to Isaac Luria’s Tikkun Olam, Repairing the World.

This week we celebrate Tu B’Shvat, which in contemporary times signifies the birthday of the trees.  Even here in Chicago in February there is potential for spring, for becoming, as tree sap begins to rise with the fluctuating temperatures.  The trees express their perfection even as the earth heats up to record highs for the third year in a row and regulations protecting God’s creations are rolled back by the government.  Ask the Artic, African and even Miami’s communities what this means on the ground.

In the air, circling the trees and the plants are the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee.  These pollinators create seeds and fruit.  Tu B’Shvat asks us to pause and be thankful for this Bee not only as a keystone species that contributes to healthy ecosystems, but as part of nature’s perfection.  On January 10th of this year, 2017, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee was listed as an endangered species.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service casts this dire news in terms that must speak louder than the fragile web-of-life that we are co-dependent on: “The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.”

On Saturday, February 11th take pause. “Ask what you can do for your country,” was coined by John F. Kennedy and yet the foundation of our union is just the opposite. Our government is supposed to serve us.  When it doesn’t, when it doesn’t serve to honor and protect the perfection of God’s creations but rather chooses to break it, whether through ignorance or greed, it is time to be a Jew.  Jewish theology and thus ideology asserts that our mission is to improve life and we act in partnership with God to do that.  We have responsibilities as Jews.  As Americans, with our individualist vision of people with rights, not so much some would say.

But I am heartened by our country’s taking to the street and working together to right the wrongs that are especially salient today.  Tu B’shvat further reminds us to not forget the environment.  Our responsibilities weigh on a multitude of fronts.  ‘Wake up and smell the roses’ means wake up to reality: reality is both broken and perfect and we are responsible for it.

“We are an amalgam, an entity consisting of the outside world and the body/mind.  Like trees whose roots branch down and outward and those whose topmost, thinnest branches reach up and outward, we too are it all.  Air, water, electrical current, the planet itself, and our body/minds, all built as an interrelated living organism.  We didn’t arise from the universe.  We don’t even merely express the cosmos.  We are it.” Robert Lanza , M.D.

Here’s one thing you can do to offset climate change: https://www.arborday.org/takeaction/carbon/offsetting-with-trees.cfm

And here’s one thing you can do for the bees:
http://pollinator.org/guides

You can do these things at your own home and/or volunteer to do them at a senior center, a park or for a neighbor!

For more information on Tu B’shvat:
http://www.aish.com/h/15sh/mm/Tu-Bishvat-Past-and-Present.html

Other blog sources:
Dorff, Rabbi Elliot N., To Do The Right and The Good: A Jewish Approach to Modern Social Ethics, (2002: Philadelphia,JPS).

Lanza, Robert M.D., Beyond Biocentrism: Rethinking Time, Space, Consciousness, and the Illusion of Death, (2016: Dallas, BenBella Books Inc.), 184.

The Possibility of Hanukkah

by Executive Director Alison C Brown
 
The darkness and the Illinois cold makes me weary. Add to that, my birthday is soon. I need light. I need intention.
 
“Light is the purpose of each Jew: that we transform our situation and environment to light,” said Rabbi Menachem Schneerson. Possibility is light. I just started a book whose premise is the psychology of possibility. Ellen J. Langer, author of over 200 research articles, writes in this book about transforming our situation. I think Dr. Langer must have written the magnet copy that my sister-in-law Joanne gave me when I turned 40, ‘If you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you be?’
 
It’s been said that we need to ‘package reality differently.’ So last night at Jazzercise I kept my mind’s eye on a 30-something woman and tried to bring that vitality into my own body. I was in the moment, mindful and attuned to my mind and body as one.
 
Unfortunately, later at home as the evening wore on I felt decrepit. I groaned each time I got up to do something. I had discarded my social conditioning regarding age, but it wasn’t an instantaneous fix! Never-the-less, it’s also a social construct that tap dance is for kids and adults can’t learn a foreign language, both of which adults can do, but it takes time and intention. Friday morning, when I go to Jazzercise again, I will hold onto the light of possibility that the more I move, the more I can move!
 
The psychology of possibility is why we light Hanukkah candles. Each candle illuminates the everyday miracles of life, the possibility that we can individually and collectively transform our environment regardless of the naysayers (especially if the naysayer is that nagging voice within!)
 
The Hanukkah story is also about imposing our culture on others. Antiochus wanted to quash Judaism and wanted all the people of his kingdom to share the same culture and worship the same Gods. Gee, this story sounds a little like the current clash of civilizations that America is experiencing. The difference is in the light. I have faith that the light is less obscured than it was back in Antiochus’ day. I have faith that humanity is indeed, for the most part, living the psychology of possibility, living with the intention of revealing the light.
 
A Haftorah we read during Hanukkah, Zech: 4:6, says, “For not by might nor by power but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.” Read “My Spirit” however it serves humanity best, but recognize it is Your spirited intention that will reveal the light, transform your situation and the environment. My other favorite magnet is, “If the people lead, the leaders will follow!”
 

High Holiday Narrative

When you find yourself amidst the soul-searching Jewish holidays, your personal narrative can offer contemplative passage. Bring awareness to your narrative. Does your self-talk, your story, lean toward self-criticism or towards an inflated sense of self-worth. Perhaps your narrative is somewhere in between and also offers room for both growth and self-compassion in the New Year.

Rabbi Alan Lew, Jewish meditation ‘guru’, views our identity, reflected in our narrative, as a construct we fear will crumble so we spend too much energy on propping it up. In the process, we live at some distance from ourselves. Estelle Frankel, Rabbinic Pastor and psychotherapist writes:

“The very formation of the ego and its defenses can be seen as a descent into a mitzrayim [narrow place, i.e. Egypt] of sorts for our spirit, which is essentially limitless. To some degree, the narrowing of consciousness that accompanies ego development is inevitable and necessary, for in order to function in the world we have to develop a healthy sense of our own autonomy and will. But that very sense of our separateness becomes a mitzrayim, which we must transcend in order to embrace the fullness of our true being.”

Mindful awareness can support the transcendence of our ego-heavy narrative. We develop and rehearse our story in an effort to make sense of our internal and external worlds. Occasionally this story, our narrative, does not “embrace the fullness of our true being.” When we bring awareness to the self-professed reasons for our life’s unfolding we can ask, “Is my narrative empowering?” From our narrative emerges our future choices.

“Awareness makes choice and change possible,” maintains neurobiologist Daniel J. Siegel, MD.  “… applying the power of narrative in healing can liberate a life. Narrative is the overarching integration of our life’s past experiences with our ongoing awareness and the way we create our future life of possibilities.”

“Our future life of possibilities” is indeed our High Holiday wish for all: Gmar hatima tova, a good signing/sealing! Perhaps in the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Ten Days of Repentance עשרת ימי תשובה, we could have the intention, the kavannah, of witnessing our narrative.

Designate a routine task as a prompt to bring awareness to your thoughts. For example, before you start the car or as soon as you sit down on the bus, take a few deep breaths and do nothing else but listen to your own narrative. Pick a narrative strand. Hold onto it long enough to discern what it expresses. Then let it go and continue witnessing. If you discover that possibility is the overarching theme of your narrative, share that energy with the world! If your narrative is holding you back somehow, try-on a Jewish spiritual practice or two throughout the coming year. Read Jewish texts. Ask the Shechinah to help you recognize your possibilities. During the High Holidays, she is closer than ever.

 

 

 

 

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!