Quote of the Day

Aug 30, 2010 at 12:15 PM

"Judaism does not believe that we are made better by forgetting our own capacity for wrong. Gossip that wounds others, cruel speech, theft, callousness — these are daily transgressions; ignoring the hurt they cause does not make us uninhibited, just inhuman.

The insensitive person feels less pain himself and inflicts more on others. Remorse is not a waste, but an acknowledgment of another's feelings and fragility. We should not morbidly dwell on our faults — to do so is less a moral trait than a character disorder. Equally, however, an inability to feel guilt, to admit what one has done to another, is a spiritual sickness. As the high holidays approach we should remember that the beginning of repentance is regret."

-Rabbi David Wolpe, from his weekly "Off the Pulpit."

Preparation for the Promised Land

Aug 27, 2010 at 12:37 PM

Parashat Ki Tavo

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with the words, “When you have come to the land HaShem your G-d is giving you…” What follows is an entire parashah emphasizing the observance of the mitzvot (G-d’s commandments).

The question arises as to why G-d would emphasize the observance of the Torah before bringing Israel into to the Promised Land. Would it not make more sense to first bring them into the Land, and then give them the Torah?

We are currently in the Jewish month of Elul – a time of preparation leading up to Rosh HaShanah, and the following High Holidays. The reason we have the month of Elul is because G-d is concerned about order and protocol. The entire Torah is about the proper order and protocol of living out our lives in the presence of HaShem. As such, we cannot just come marching into the High Holidays and expect to just shout out, “Here I am!” We have an opportunity for a mo’ed, a divine set apart time when G-d chooses to meet with us. Such an opportunity requires preparation on our part.

One of the several themes of Rosh HaShanah is the coronation of G-d as King. If we were to be summoned before an earthly king or queen, wouldn’t we want to prepare ourselves and make sure we were at our best? Then how much more so should we be preparing to meet with the King of the Universe! We have been given an opportunity to meet with G-d. The month of Elul is our preparation period to ensure that when we stand before G-d on Rosh HaShanah, that we are coming at our best, and have prepared ourselves to be in the presence of G-d. We must get ourselves right, so we can stand upright before HaShem.

That is the purpose in Ki Tavo. The Jewish people were given the Torah before coming into the Promised Land because coming into the Land meant coming before G-d. The land of Israel is interconnected with G-d in the deepest way. So coming into the land symbolizes coming into G-d’s presence. In this week’s portion it states:

You are to take the first-fruits of all the crops the ground yields, which you will harvest from your land that HaShem your G-d is giving you, put them in a basket and go to the place where HaShem your G-d will choose to have His Name live (Deut. 26:2).

G-d has chosen the land of Israel as the place where G-d’s presence resides on earth. By coming into the Land, Israel is coming into G-d’s presence. Therefore, G-d emphasizes Israel’s preparation and observance of the “How to’s” of being in the manifest presence of HaShem (i.e. the mitzvot). That is also why the section of blessings and curses in the parashah is so severe. Being in the presence of G-d requires greater accountability. As we the Jewish people had to prepare to come into the Promised Land (i.e. G-d’s presence), so should we be in preparation for the coming of Rosh Hashanah, and another opportunity to be in the presence of G-d.

Quote of the Day

at 9:46 AM

Today's Quote of the Day is a perfect follow-up to yesterday's post, The Promise and the Talmud:

"The Gemara is a never ending source of discovery, loaded wth legal discussions (often enough to make one's head spin), stories, lore, prophecy, discussions on Messiah and the end times, the esoteric realm, and much more.

Every day around the world Jews engage the Gemara, that is how it should be apporached, in an egaged fashion. Instead of just reading it and leaving it, the Gemara wants you to engage it, fight with it, and learn with it."

-Jeremiah Michael, from his new blog, Gemara Thoughts.

The Promise and the Talmud

Aug 26, 2010 at 11:19 AM

A couple weeks ago I blogged about having just finished reading The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. I so thoroughly enjoyed reading the book that I could not wait to begin the sequel, The Promise. Well last weekend I finished reading that book as well (I know, I'm behind on the J-Bom reading).

The difficulty with reading any good book, and especially a series of books, is the disappointment at finishing the book. The disappointment was not with the books (chas v'shalom), it is being bummed that the story is over. Maybe it's just me ... but you grow acquainted with the characters, the setting, and the story. So when a good book is over, you have to say goodbye.

Well, that is how I felt finishing The Promise. I just spent the last month or so getting to know the intimate details of the lives of Reuven Malter, Danny Saunders, and all the other characters. I was brought back to Brooklyn in an earlier decade. While I was reading these two books (The Chosen and The Promise) they were guests in my home, we rode the metro together, and they fell asleep next to the lamp on my bedside table. A good book pulls you into it, and brings you into the world of the characters' lives.

I have also blogged a couple times about the Talmud. I have always loved Jewish texts. For many years I have had a particular growing appreciation especially for the world of the Talmud. This has been especially true over the last two years or so. I have developed a true love and admiration for the intricate conversation of the Talmud, its details, and it development. It is a very difficult body of texts that requires a mastery of its nuances, language, and conversation before you can really begin to understand and appreciate it. One cannot just read a book about the Talmud. Yes ... that is how many of us were first introduced to it. But like with anything, one must truly become acquainted with its technicalities to really understand it.

I am not claiming to have arrived, nor do I claim to be some talmid chacham in regard to the Gemara. I am simply on a journey like many of you. The point is not agreeing on everything. The Talmud is a collection of complex conversations between individuals and generations that was eventually codified. So it is in a way, like listening in and participating in any other sort of conversation. There are things you will agree with, things you will not, and some that just challenge you! But the only way to understand it is to participate in the conversation! To add your own voice to the dialog.

This love and appreciation of the Talmud is really reflected in the works of Chaim Potok. (I have been on some sort of Potok kick lately, and have read three of his books, and just started a fourth). You especially experience this love of Talmud getting to know Reuven Malter and his father. As Reuven is in yeshiva, and studying for s'micha, you experience Gemara the way Reuven does, and see the pages in the way Reuven sees them.

Preparation for Orthodox s'micha is very intense. And as the time draws closer, Reuven spends most of his life enveloped in the Talmud in preparation for his s'micha exams. I found the way Reuven often vividly describes this relationship to the Talmud so very moving:

"I locked myself into the world of the Talmud, lived in it even during the hours when the texts were not open in front of me, saw the shapes of its printed pages everywhere ... I lived in a world two thousand years in the past, in a time when sages had been remarkably unafraid of new ideas, and I sat on the earthen floors of the ancient academies, listening to lectures on the Mishna, listening to the discussions that followed, and sometimes a sage would take my arm and we would go into a silent grove of trees, and walk and talk (The Promise, p. 310-311)."

These words reflect a deep admiration and love for this great body of literature, and as I read this I was challenged to go deeper in my own interaction and relationship with these texts. As I mentioned earlier, it is not about the Talmud always being "right," or agreeing with everything written on the page. In fact, I am often very bothered by some of the conversations in the Gemara. But that does not mean I do not appreciate the discussion. I am often just as irked in daily conversations. But the answer is to engage rather than disengage. To dig deeper and swim in the conversation. And as Messianic Jews, we have our own unique voice to add to the collection of voices of our people over the generations.

So my challenge to each of us is to learn to swim in the conversation. To dig deeper and learn to truly appreciate the voices of our people embodied in the pages of Jewish texts.

“L’Shanah tovah tikateivu – May you be inscribed for a sweet New Year!”

Rethinking Jewish Prayer, Part II

Aug 23, 2010 at 11:42 AM

Last week we began discussing our re-engagement with Jewish prayer. As the High Holidays quickly approach, it is important we think deeper about prayer. We are not just reciting meaningless words, or remembering something that happened in the past. Jewish prayer is a re-enactment of sacred events. We should think of the Siddur as a script. Through reenacting these events, we live out the story of the Jewish people, our Covenant with HaShem, and participate with the angels in heavenly worship. The Siddur, in so many ways, reminds us of who we really are and what G-d expects from us.

Recognizing Our Baggage

Prayer comes in many forms – individual, communal, formal, and spontaneous. And each form is just as important for a mature and vibrant spiritual life.

If so, what keeps us from engaging deeply in Jewish prayer? Why is it so difficult for many people to find liturgy spiritual, moving, and relevant? Much of it has to do with our thinking about prayer, and the baggage we bring into it.

Jewish Prayer Must Be Learned

Firstly, Jewish prayer is not easy. It must be learned. There is no way around it. So for many of us, the learning curve leaves us feeling clumsy and out of place. However, as the saying goes, nothing ever worth having comes easy. Prayer is like riding a bicycle. You may fall a few times, and it may take time before you can remove the training wheels. But once you do, the possibilities are endless. Personally, I have become so familiar with the liturgy that unencumbered by the words, I often find myself drifting back and forth between my spiritual prayer language and the Hebrew. The form is actually similar. We just do not often recognize the connection.

Perceived Dichotomy of "Worship" vs. Liturgy

For many of us, there is also an often subconscious tension between “worship” vs. liturgy. Due to a strong influence from more contemporary Christian forms of worship, we often adopt modes of thinking that consider “true worship” to be of a particular style and genre. However, there is actually no such dichotomy between liturgical and contemporary forms of worship. Especially when one considers that within a Messianic context, most of the “worship songs” are actually taken from the liturgy.


There are also those who grew up in homes where synagogue attendance was somewhat a regular part of their lives. And yet, spiritual growth can be hindered by nostalgia. For some, the service was dead and why go back to such practices. Or for others, it might ‘feel nice and Jewish,’ but it does not provide deep spiritual meaning. As such, it is often shelved with hot apple pie, potato kugel, or latkes. And there are always those for whom the liturgy is not deeply meaningful because they are caught up in the myth that “it has to be done this way!” They are so enveloped in “doing it right” that they are distracted from engaging liturgy in ways that bring us closer to HaShem.

Lastly, related to the above, there are also those who get caught up in a “Fiddler on the Roof mentality.” For these people, Judaism is not deeply spiritual and moving because they are enamored by the window dressing. They may look, dress, and try to talk like Fiddler on the Roof characters, or like Chasidim, but they do not understand the beauty and richness, as well as the elasticity of Jewish spirituality. They may try to look the part – yet they are also usually the first people who cannot read Hebrew, do not have mezuzot on their doors, or know how to lay Tefillin – all of which are basic and essential components of true Jewish spirituality. They are not fooling anyone. Any real Orthodox Jew would have the basics down before the clothing. There must be foundations to build upon.

Moving Forward

So as we rethink Jewish prayer, let’s also ask ourselves questions. Granted there are many, many ways to make liturgy boring. However, let’s also ask, is the problem the liturgy or us? Is subconscious baggage contributing to my inability to engage G-d through Jewish prayer? If so, let’s work together to move forward. To look deeper at prayer (in all its forms), and reconnect to communal worship through liturgy.

Stay tuned as we continue to discuss Jewish prayer and practical suggestions for rethinking Jewish prayer.

“L’Shanah tovah tikateivu – May you be inscribed for a sweet New Year!”

Lost Property and Relationships

Aug 20, 2010 at 12:18 AM

Parashat Ki Tetze

What can lost property teach us about relationships?

Parashat Ki Tetze contains seventy-two different mitzvot, the largest number in any Torah portion. On the outset, it seems to be just a condensed list of random instructions. The format of this portion encourages us to take a wider view so as not to miss the forest for the trees. After looking through the entirety of the mitzvot listed in the parasha, we find a common thread – the relationship between our physical possessions and our human relationships.

In this portion, the Torah clarifies our obligation to look out for the interests of others and to return to others what they have lost:

“You are not to watch your brother’s ox or sheep go astray and behave as if you hadn’t seen it; you must bring them back to your brother. If your brother is not close by, or you don’t know who the owner is, you are to bring it home to your house; and it will remain with you until your brother asks for it. Then you are to give it back to him. You are to do the same with his donkey, his coat or anything else of your brother’s that he loses. If you find something he lost, you must not ignore it.” (Deuteronomy 22:1-3)

According to Nehama Leibowitz, this commandment is one of commission, not omission:

“The mitzvah of returning lost property … involves, not only the passive taking charge of the article until the owner claims it, but also an active concern with safeguarding a neighbor’s possessions (Studies in Devarim, p. 214).”

An “active concern” includes doing everything possible to locate the owner of the lost property. The finder must not only care for the property, but may not profit from it. And if it was invested, the finder must also return all the earnings. The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) makes it clear that the mitzva of returning lost property supersedes any inconvenience to the finder.

So why is this so important? What does lost property have to do with relationships? Rabbi Harvey J. Fields explains that:

“Property is an extension of each individual. It is like the limb of one’s body. Loving one’s neighbor means taking care of all that is important to them as you would want them to safeguard all that is important to you. Returning lost property is a demonstration of love and concern for one’s neighbors.”

Bachya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda agrees, explaining that the act of restoring lost property fulfills the Torah’s instruction to “love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18).”

Yeshua further clarified the importance of our relationships, and that nothing is greater than our relationship with G-d, and with each other. May we, with G-d’s help, demonstrate love and concern for those around us, seeing within our fellow human beings a reflection of the Divine Image.

“L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu – May you be inscribed for a sweet New Year!”

Rethinking Jewish Prayer

Aug 18, 2010 at 8:45 AM

What do you think about prayer?

Do you envision prayer as participation in a Sacred Drama?

Do you think of the Siddur as an instrument of holiness?

As the High Holidays approach, it is appropriate to think deeper about prayer. For when we pray, we are not just reciting meaningless words, or remembering something that happened in the past. Rather, Jewish prayer is a re-enactment and reliving of sacred events. Through the ritual of prayer we become participants in the Sacred. It is important to think of the Siddur as one would think about a script. Through reenacting these events, we live out the story of the Jewish people, our Covenant with HaShem, and participate with the angels in heavenly worship.

Dancing through History

For example, through the Mi Khamokha section of a prayer service (which comes before the Amidah), we relive our redemption from Egypt and celebrate our crossing of the Red Sea.

Renewing Covenant

The Torah Service as well serves as a reenactment of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Every time the Torah is removed from the ark, we have the opportunity to recommit ourselves to G-d’s covenant, and respond to HaShem’s Torah. As followers of Yeshua, the Torah is also interestingly a perfect reenactment of the life of Yeshua and the essentials of the Gospel message.

According to John 1, Yeshua is the Torah made flesh. The Torah is the symbol of our covenant with HaShem, deepened and permeated through the Living Torah, our Messiah. When we remove the Torah from the ark, it is an illustration of the incarnation. When we process it through the congregation, we each have an opportunity to reach out and take hold of the message. When the Torah is brought to the bimah and read out loud in front of the community, it is a picture of the Gospel message proclaimed before Israel and the nations. And when we raise up the Torah, it is not just a picture of the ascension, but of Yeshua’s words that, “if I be lifted up I will draw all people unto myself (John 12:32).” And lastly, when we close the doors of the ark after putting the Torah away, we are awaiting the second coming, when Mashiach will be revealed once again.

Singing with Angels

One of my favorite parts of the service is the Kedusha during the Amidah, when we rise up on our toes while reciting “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh … Holy is the L-rd of Hosts, the whole earth is filled with Your glory!” The Kedusha is our participation alongside the angels of heaven worshiping around G-d’s throne. In ancient Jewish understanding, it was believed that angels did not have knees. So in keeping with this ancient practice, we still rise up on our toes with knees locked in imitating the angels in heaven.

According to Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks:

"The most significant mystical contribution to the Siddur is the Kedusha, said in three different forms, most notably during the readers repetition of the Amida ... This is a mystical idea, and like all mysticism it hovers at the edge of intelligibility. Mysticism is an attempt to say the unsayable, know the unknowable, to reach out in language to a reality that lies beyond the scope of language. Often in the course of history, mysticism has tended to devalue the world of senses in favor of a more exalted realm of disembodied spirituality. Jewish mysticism did not take this course. Instead it chose to bathe our life on earth in the dazzling light of the Divine radiance."

Shaping Theology

However, Jewish prayer (when understood as sacred drama) is more than just a reenactment of defining events. Prayer actually shapes our theology. It establishes the way we think about Torah and shapes our concepts of redemption and salvation.

The Siddur also serves as a guide for preparing the way for Mashiach, and the concept that prayer must lead to action. Repentance (teshuva) is also one of the primary tools the Siddur uses in preparing the way of HaShem. The Siddur also teaches us how to be holy.

In my own personal davening, I often prefer the Conservative Siddur, Sim Shalom, because of its traditional feel, yet intentional deviations of inclusiveness and social consciousness. For example, on pages 8-9, Sim Shalom inserts a passage from the Torah (Parashat Kedoshim) recalling our obligation to be holy:

"You shall all be holy, for I, the L-rd your G-d, am holy. You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block before the blind. You shall not render an unjust decision; do not be partial to the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly. Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself; I am the L-rd" (selected from Lev. 19:2, 14-18).

This recitation reminds us that in Jewish understanding, Holiness is not some mystical state of being that we all hope to attain. Rather, Holiness is a lifestyle. According to Abraham Joshua Heschel:

"The question of religion is what we do with the presence of G-d: how to think, how to feel, how to act; how to live in a way compatible with our being created in the image of G-d."

The Siddur, in so many ways, reminds us of who we really are and what G-d expects from us. Through the Aleinu we remind ourselves that redemption begins with us, and through our concluding morning prayers we anticipate Yimot Ha’Mashiach – the days of Messiah.

Stay tuned next week as we discuss the baggage we often bring to the Siddur which keeps us from experiencing prayer as sacred drama. We will also explore how to shop for a Siddur, and practical suggestions for delving deeper into Jewish prayer.

“L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu – May you be inscribed for a sweet New Year!”

Conversion in Early Judaism

Aug 12, 2010 at 11:36 PM

There is a common misconception, particularly within the Messianic Jewish blogosphere, that conversion to Judaism is a post-biblical, and rather late "rabbinic invention."

However, very few people have really taken the time to trace the development of conversion (גיור, giyur), and particularly its widespread existence already by the time of the Second Temple period (i.e. before the development of what we commonly understand as 'Rabbinic Judaism').

This blog post is an expansion of my comment to a particular discussion on Rabbi Derek Leman's blog, Messianic Jewish Musings.

The Torah

It is true that the Torah and the earliest portions of the Tanakh do not mention conversion clearly. With that said, the question of how to include non-Jews into the community of Israel has always been an issue.

In the Torah, there is recognition of non-Jews participating within the community life of Israel. Additionally, the Torah even recognizes various types of "sojourners" (gerim), and specifies certain requirements for levels of participation for each of these different types of non-Jews. So although non-Jews were included in many respects, there were also noted differences.

For example, non-Jews may not have been allowed to offer certain sacrifices on the altar in the Mishkan. Another example is the laws of Kashrut. According to Deuteronomy 14:21:

"You shall not eat anything that dies naturally, you may give it to the ger who is within your gates, that he may eat of it ... "

We have always valued the participation of non-Jews. This has been true even to the point that there has also been an evolving understanding of how to fully include non-Jews, not only has fellow partakers (as gerim), but as full participants in the social and religious life of the Jewish people. As a result, we do get glimpses of the beginnings of some type of conversion in order to bring someone into full inclusion into the community, even in the Torah.

The first glimpse of this is with with gerim and Passover. Gerim were not allowed to participate in the eating of the Passover lamb, unless they underwent circumcision (which in later times, would be one of the prerequisites for conversion). This is an example where a religious practice was forbidden for non-Jews, unless they chose to conform to a specific religious rite:

"And when a ger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover of the L-rd, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it, and he shall be as native-born (Exodus 12:48)."

In this way, the ger was brought into the peoplehood. Through circumcision one became "as native-born." Although not a fully developed idea of conversion, there was indeed a process for inclusion even if not yet fully developed. Another example that may be relevant to a process of conversion involves non-Jewish women captured in war who could be adopted forcibly as wives (see Deut. 21:10-14).


By the last centuries BCE, there was certainly some sort of recognized conversion process in place. This is supported most clearly in Esther 8:17:

"And in every province and city, wherever the king's command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews (מתיהדים), because fear of the Jews fell upon them."

The ter m מתיהדים means “to become Jewish/to make oneself Jewish.” The Septuagint (c. 2nd cent. BCE) interprets מתיהדים as "circumcised themselves." The Jewish historian Josephus (c. 1st cent. CE) recounts that "Many of other nations circumcised themselves for fear of the Jews" (Antiquities 11.6.13).

In both rabbinic and scholarly understanding of this period, circumcision is clearly a reference to some type of conversion.

The first century Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, also discusses proselytes in his work, Special Laws I. In speaking of proselytes, Philo enjoins his own people to treat them respectfully and to guard themselves from jealousy:

"After they have given the proselytes an equal share in their laws, and privileges, and immunities, on their forsaking the pride of their fathers and forefathers, they must not give a license to their jealous language and unbridled tongues ... lest the proselytes should be exasperated at such treatment and in return utter impious language against the true and holy G-d" (IX, 51-53).

Thus, it seems clear that conversion is not a “later rabbinic invention,” as we already see traces of it in the Hebrew Scriptures and contemporaneous sources. Additionally, there are even references to proselytes in some of the Apocryphal and pseudopygraphic literature of the Second Temple period.

But what about the B'rit Chadasha? What do the Apostolic Writings have to say about conversion to Judaism?

The New Testament

According to Strongs Concordance, the term proselyte(s) is mentioned FOUR TIMES in the New Testament alone.

Here are just two examples:

-"And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven … both Jews (by birth) and proselytes” (Acts 2:5,10).

-"Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of G-d” (Acts 13:43).

There is an additional reference in Acts 6:5 to Nicolas from Antioch, "a proselyte to Judaism," who was among a handful of others chosen by the Jerusalem Council to serve among the Greek speaking Jews.

By the Second Temple period, the concept of proselytes to Judaism was already well-established. These references demonstrate that there was a category beyond that of Godfearers, who were full converts – Jews in every sense of the word.

And the Apostle Luke does not make any judgement against these “Jews by choice.” Rather, he places them in high regard by not only mentioning them, but mentioning them in three places within the book of Acts.

The only seemingly negative use of the term proselyte in the entire NT is Yeshua’s reference to particular Pharisees and scribes who go to great lengths to bring proselytes into the faith, but lead them down the wrong path. In this context, it is not the proselytes who are the problem, but the specific group of scribes and Pharisees he is addressing:

"Woe to you, teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Mt 23:15)

There is even some interesting scholarship on Acts 16 that supports a theory that Paul had Timothy undergo a type of conversion “because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek (16:3).”


So, after a little reflection, it seems that the assumption that conversion to Judaism is a "late rabbinic invention" is indeed false. The beginnings of a process to fully include non-Jews into the Jewish people began very early in Jewish history, maybe as early as the Torah.

However, the solid idea of a recognized conversion was already well established by the time of Yeshua, and the Second Temple period.

The Chosen

at 8:15 AM

Earlier this week I finished reading Chaim Potok's classic, The Chosen. Although I have seen the movie numerous times, and have repeatedly heard how much better the book was, I only finally got around to reading it ... AND I'M GLAD I DID!

For those not already familiar with this classic, which has sold millions of copies, it is the story of a young Modern Orthodox kid from Brooklyn (Reuven Malter) who befriends a Chassidic kid (Danny Saunders), who is the son of a great Chassidic Rebbe. The book explores a number of themes, including Zionism, Chasidism, and life in Jewish Brooklyn in the 1940's. It really gives an excellent glimpse into the very different worlds of Reuven and Danny, and yet at the same time, the similarities between them.

The story describes the adolescent struggles of the two main characters to figure out their life-paths, the struggles of faith, and the realities of life. Chaim Potok not only creates a world that pulls you into it, but entangles your own heart and emotions with that of the characters. As I finished reading the book Sunday night, tears streamed down my face. The message of the story pulled at my heart strings, and left me yearning for more (which I just began the sequel, The Promise!).

If you're still looking for a light Summer read that will feed you emotionally, spiritually, and Jewishly, pick-up a copy of The Chosen. You'll be glad you did!

Elul: A Month of Love and Preparation

Aug 10, 2010 at 9:15 PM

Love and Preparation. What do these two words have in common at the moment?

Last night began Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul. Elul is a very special month because it is the month preceding Tishrei – the month the High Holidays fall in. Traditionally it is known as a month of preparation. This preparation, called Cheshbon HaNefesh, is a time we begin to take an accounting of our soul. We recall our thoughts and actions over the past year and begin to seek t’shuvah (repentance) for those things, and with those we may have wronged.

In recognition of this special month, and in anticipation for the upcoming High Holidays, a few additions are added to our daily prayers. One of the most noticeable is the sounding of the Shofar every morning. Traditionally, we Jews only blow the Shofar once a year – every morning of the month of Elul leading up to, and on, Rosh HaShanah and Neilah (the concluding service) of Yom Kippur. The reason is because of the specialness of the blowing of the Shofar. Jewish tradition teaches that there is something spiritual and mystical about the blowing of the Shofar, and I’ll touch more on this in upcoming blog posts.

Another familiar addition is Psalm 27 – the Psalm associated with the High Holidays. Psalm 27 is added to all of the services beginning with the first day of Elul and continuing through Hoshanah Rabbah at the end of Sukkot (in some congregations, only through Yom Kippur).

How are we to understand this preparation period of Elul?

The rabbis teach us that Elul is actually an acronym. Each of the Hebrew letters - אלול - alef, lamed, vav, lamed – stand for the beginning letter of each word in the phrase “אני לדודי ודודי לי – ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” A familiar phrase taken from Song of Songs 6:3.

The illustration of Elul in Jewish thought is the preparation before a wedding. The holidays in Hebrew are called mo’edim, set appointed times when G-d chooses to meet with us. The High Holidays are the pinnacle of these appointed times. HaShem desires that we should be caught up in a love affair with Him. As Abraham Joshua Heschel points out, G-d is in pursuit of a relationship with us. G-d desires communion with creation and the High Holidays are set times which G-d “clears away His calendar” so to speak, and chooses to spend an even greater amount of time with us. Although we can meet with G-d anytime, the mo’edim are specific and special times.

The High Holidays are also when many believe the Mashiach will return – at the final blast of the Shofar. As such, the High Holidays will inaugurate the final consummation at the end of the age when the Groom returns for His Bride, and ushers in the Messianic Age.

That love of HaShem for us, and us for HaShem is the picture of Elul. It is preparation not just for “some holiday.” It is our preparation time to meet with G-d. Elul is also our preparation for the coming of Mashiach, and preparation for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (see Rev. 19). I hope we’re ready for the month of Elul and all that it brings.

L’Shana tova tikateivu – May you be inscribed for a sweet New Year!