A man once cried to God, Lord, the world is in such a mess – everything seems wrong.  Why don’t you send someone to help and change the world? The voice of Adonai answered, I did send someone. I sent you.

I have taken my transgressions with me, carrying them year-by-year into my hours and days, my lapses of conscience and indiscretion with words, my petty judgments and my vanity, clinging to grief and fear, anger and shame, clinging to excuses and to old habits. I’ve felt the light of heaven, signs and wonders in my own life, and still will not surrender to holiness and light. 

It is said that each person is their own harshest critic. Just as sounding the shofar moves God from the throne of judgment to the throne of mercy, Elul offers us the chance to move away from critical, self abasement to candid, empathetic self assessment. As we prepare for the holidays, be kind to yourself. If God sits on the throne of mercy, why shouldn’t you as well?

It is impossible to see yourself as others do.

It is not because we are incapable of seeing things, but rather, when it comes to ourselves, we understand what we are seeing differently than everyone else. 

We make this mistake even when we think that we are objectively looking in a mirror.  We make this mistake all the more so when we stare into the ever-present mirror of what people are saying about us on social media or behind our back. We misunderstand how we appear on that video or how we come across in that email.

We need voices of doubt, wonder and faith to counteract voices of fear, division and despair. The Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light that graces many sanctuaries throughout the world, is a reminder that there is something greater in this universe than all of us combined. But the true brightness of that light is not in gazing upon it ourselves but in seeing its glimmer reflected in the eyes of a loved one and friend. That is when we realize that the light burns first from within. May we be each light to another… and banish the darkness.

Elul is a time to acknowledge specific acts of wrongdoing as well as the more subtle ways of missing the mark – the times we hardened our hearts or held on to evil thoughts. We uncover a deeper truth about Judaism and our humanity when we not only focus on what we’ve done, but what we failed to do.

We all balance between the desire for familiarity and the yearning to change. Part of the art of life is to keep what is precious and to grow into what is daring and new. As we move toward the start of a new year through the twilight of the old, may we strive to more carefully find the balance between the comfortable and the exciting.

Many of us have experienced a fair share of pain and loss this year; still others have had much more. Difficulties, shadows and sorrow can be the frame that permits us to appreciate beauty and blessing. In the words of Rabbi Aharon of Apt: Darkness is the throne upon which light sits. As we reflect during these days of Elul upon our victories, may we also consider those low points along the journey, even as we infuse them with meaning and significance to better light our way forward.

The story is told of a small mountain village in Europe many years ago.  In this village there was a nobleman with no children.  He was concerned about the legacy he would leave behind.  He spent a great deal of time contemplating his dilemma and, at last, decided to build a synagogue.  As this was his gift to the community, he spent many hours and a great sum of money working with the contractors, the designers and the builders to create the most magnificent synagogue anyone had ever seen. However, he sought no one’s input or guidance.  He determined that no one would see the plans for the building until it was completed.

To be Jewish today is to recognize that every person is created in the image of God and that our purpose in living is to be a reminder of God…. We must be sensitive to the pain of all human beings. We cannot remain indifferent to human suffering, whether in other countries or in our own cities and towns. The mission of the Jewish people has never been to make the world more Jewish, but to make it more human.

There’s a story of a young rabbi that is furiously preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He goes to see his boss, the senior rabbi, feeling accomplished and proud - he has assigned all of the honors and finished his sermons (a task this rabbi would be quite envious of!)

My family and I subscribe to PJ Library, which is a wonderful resource for people who have kids and people who like to tell stories. Every month we get a children’s book from them, at no cost to us, thanks to the generosity of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation as well as private donors from around the world. (Check out pjlibrary.org for more info and to sign up!)