{Torah and Tea: Thoughts on Elul and the High Holidays.}

Shavua Tov,

It’s a quiet Saturday night, I am sipping a cup of hot tea (HELLO FALL) and I have a chance to blog.:D

Growing up, Pesach was my favorite holiday. I love the story of redemption – both physical and spiritual. I love the traditions and symbolism of the Seder. I love how Pesach brings people together. And… I love chocolate covered matzah!!!

But as I have grown older (and hopefully wiser) I am eager to celebrate the High Holidays! They are just a few weeks away now!

The month leading up to the feasts is called Elul. The month of Elul is a time of preparation – spiritual preparation. It’s a time for introspection and reflection. It’s a time for doing teshuva. It’s a time for getting back on track spiritually.

Ultimately, the month of Elul is about returning. I have spent a lot of time over the last several weeks thinking about what exactly we are returning to and what the High Holidays are really all about.

I’ve recently read, “Inviting G-d In: Celebrating the Soul-Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days” by Rabbi David Aaron. His book is filled with beautiful descriptions of the feasts that I have to share!

“The great sixteenth-century master of the Kabbalah, Rabbi Isaac Luria – better known as the Ari – explains that the story of Adam and Eve is a paradigm for understanding this process of awareness, especially in reference to what is spiritually happening during the High Holidays.

The Torah teaches that Adam was not just a man; he was androgynous, both male and female. Neither part knew the other existed. After creating this being, G-d said that it is not good for Adam to be alone. The Torah relates that while Adam was sleeping, God separated the two beings. Adam woke up to find his other half, Eve, whom he realized was of his essence. At this point, Adam and Eve stood face-to-face, chose to unite, and experienced the ecstasy of love.

The Ari explains the story of Adam and Eve as the quintessential love story, which parallels the love story between us and G-d. Just as in the case of Adam and Eve, we experience the feelings of loneliness and alienation that actually create the yearning and the anticipation for the final conscious reuniting with G-d.

Similar to Adam and Eve –who began as one entity joined back-to-back yet knew nothing of each other’s existence – we too are intrinsically connected to G-d whether we know it or not. But without knowing it, we cannot experience the blissful joy of oneness. Until we experience alienation from G-d, yearn for oneness, and consciously choose to reconnect to G-d, until we move from being back-to-back to being face-to-face with G-d, we will not know the ecstasy of ultimate love.

According to the Kabbalah, the period beginning with Rosh Hashanah, extending into Yom Kippur, followed by the festival of Sukkot and ending with Simchat Torah, is an especially opportune time for realizing our ultimate and eternal connection to G-d and to each other. Each Rosh Hashanah, we return to a state of back-to-back with G-d – we are one with Him, but we do not know it. We yearn to return to G-d during the ten days of awe from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the day on which we are finally granted forgiveness. It is that forgiveness that reestablishes and reveals our face-to-face connection, and the joy of that forgiveness empowers us to achieve the ultimate realization of our oneness with G-d on Simchat Torah.”

Rosh Hashanah –

Rosh Hashanah is also known as Yom HaDin or the Day of Judgment. It’s the day on which G-d remembers every single little thing you did over the last year – both good and bad – and decides your fate.

The thought of being judged is a little scary and overwhelming! Yet on Rosh Hashanah, we rejoice in trembling. We acknowledge that Hashem is a righteous and compassionate judge!

One of the most beautiful traditions of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar. It beckons us to awake from our spiritual slumber and return to Hashem and to Torah. It is also a reminder to Hashem!

“The oral tradition teaches that when we blow the shofar, the King, who is sitting sternly on His throne of judgment, suddenly gets up and takes the seat of compassion (compassion is the process of kindness overriding justice.) The whole nature of the day changes when we blow the shofar. With just one piercing sound, the day is transformed from a day of judgment into a day of compassion. Why? Because by blowing the shofar, we willing submit ourselves to judgment. And that very act ignites, so to speak, compassion in G-d.”

On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem judges us not because He wants to get back at us and slap us around a little. He is judging us because He loves and cares for us. On Rosh Hashanah, we are returning to Avinu Malkeinu, “Our Father, Our King.”

Yom Kippur –

Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement is a day of love and forgiveness.

“The Talmud teaches that in this world, when something good happens to us, we praise God: “Blessed be He who is good and does good.” But when something bad happens, we must say. “Blessed is He who is a true Judge.” However, in the future we will say, “Blessed is He who is good and does good” even about the misfortunes in our lives. In other words, when we will look back and see the whole picture, we will realize that every bad thing that happened to us contributed to G-d’s plan, which is to bring upon us ultimate goodness. This is also true about every bad thing that we did.”

There is a connection between Yom Kippur and Purim.

“On Purim we are able to say “blessed is Haman” because although he was evil, even Haman contributed to G-d’s plan for goodness. Yom Kippur is like Purim because on that day even our misdeeds can be seen as positive forces in serving G-d’s will and plan. Therefore, on Yom Kippur G-d forgives us and we can forgive ourselves. The darkness can serve the light, and the ugly past can be recycled into a beautiful future.”

On Yom Kippur we are returning to G-d, our Forgiving Parent.

Sukkot –

“On Rosh Hashanah we experience G-d as a Judge. On Yom Kippur we experience G-d as our Lover. According to the Kabbalah, when we sit in the close confines of the sukkah, we feel G-d hugging us.”

“Judaism teaches that the goal of life and the source of true happiness is holiness. We are holy when we are whole – integrated and harmonious with our inner self, with our nation, with the rest of humanity, with nature, and with G-d. We accomplish this by fulfilling the commandments of G-d.”

“From Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, we work our way back from disintegration to wholeness and happiness. On Sukkot we reach the finish line and celebrate becoming whole again. As part of this celebration of wholeness, we take the four species and wave them toward the four corners of the world, as well as up and down.”

“The Talmudic sages tell us that the four species represent different parts of ourselves. The citron symbolizes our heart; the palm branch symbolizes our spine; the shape of the myrtle leaves suggests our eyes; and the willow leaves look like our mouth. Therefore, when we hold them together to fulfill the commandment of waving them on Sukkot, it is as if we are pulling ourselves together and dedicated ourselves to G-d.”

On Sukkot we celebrate wholeness and return to our Lover.

Each passing year, the thought of Hashem as a compassionate Judge, a forgiving Parent, and a faithful Lover become more and more profound to me!

I pray that as we finish out the month of Elul, chop apples, fast, and dine in our sukkahs we are reminded of the soul meaning of the High Holidays and who we are returning to!