of Elul, I receive a daily e-mail from a great teacher and musician in California, Craig Taubman, who invites inspiring people to write reflections on a particular Elul-related theme. If you'd like to receive these wonderful 'Jewels of Elul,' please click here, or write back and let me know. It's easy to sign up. (They even have an app!) This year's fantastic theme is 'The Art of Return,' and I want to share with you what that means to me.
In his introduction to the theme, Craig Taubman wrote, "As we prepare to move forward into the new year, the month of Elul is an opportunity to look back to the collective wisdom of our experiences as a guide for
the future." Indeed, there is so much collective wisdom in the past, and we often forget to use that as a 'guide' for our own future. Perhaps we think that turning back means admitting fault; we should have done things better. But really, returning can simply mean learning from what was, to better understand what will be. Over the next few weeks, I want to look at our Torah portions from a different angle. Instead of focusing on the specifics of what's going on in the text, let's take a step back and learn from the tenor of what the Torah is trying to teach us. Let us return; and let us learn.
Our parashah, Shoftim, includes a lot of instruction on a variety of topics. But there's something interesting that unites all these different commandments. The Torah instructs the Israelites to appoint fair judges and officials; and then lists rules for their behavior. The text also insists
that when a verdict is issued, it must be carried out 'scrupulously... you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left' (Deut. 17:10,11). Shoftim then includes an interesting section about what happens when the Israelites will insist on appointing a king over themselves. It is not something mandated by God... but the text seems to know the people will eventually want this. And when I look at these various instructions, I see that the Torah understands - in a very fundamental and deep way - the essence of human nature: Appoint fair judges... but know that you still need to govern their behavior. Trust people to carry out the law... but clarify what the letter of the law MUST be. And crown a king... but make sure they don't set themselves above the law. The Torah knows us, sometimes better than we know ourselves.
This is our task for the month of Elul: 1) Humbly realize that we don't know ourselves as well as we'd like to think we do. And therefore accept input from others, even when it's hard to do so, and maybe uncomfortable or awkward. 2) Take a step back and see the larger picture; what is the uniting theme between various situations, what
brings them together, and what can we learn from it all? 3) Allow ourselves to return. But what does 'return' mean to YOU? Does it mean return to the Torah, to seek out its wisdom for life today? Or return to your own story, and learn from experiences past? Or perhaps return to your roots, to your tradition and family heritage, to better understand where you came from and the wisdom of your ancestors? However you choose to interpret this for yourself, I encourage you take on this challenge. In the month ahead, push yourself to explore what 'The Art of Return' might mean for you; and it will bring you into the New Year in a much more meaningful way.
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