Yael Unterman
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Elul breezes blow

There are 40 days until Yom Kippur to pause and reflect on who you are, and where you're going to. Will you interrupt your busy schedule to take the time?

In honor of Elul, a poem that reflects for me how when Elul arrives we start to feel change in the air:

Elul breezes blow
summer dust
from our hair

gusts of air
waft through slowed
beachside mind

A r i s e
A l i g n
A w a k e
o sleeping soul

though September heat
shimmers still
in cloudless skies

Elul breezes blow
and shofar cries

Hodesh tov, dear friends. The summer adventures are more or less behind us — whether fun, trying, exhausting or refreshing, they’re in the past.

A new year stands at the threshold and knocks at our door.

q: Should we let it in?
a: Yes, when we are ready.

q: How can we get ready?
a: By creating space and listening — to our delicate inner voices, to the call of our lives.

I’ve realized this year more than ever how important it is to make quiet time happen. In fact, I took this year as a kind of “shmitta” sabbatical, letting some of my earth lie fallow, reducing my activity so that I could hear that still small voice; so that I could set my next steps in the right direction, by first finding out what that might be. Not just running running running, but halting, and asking “Who does Gd want me to be now? Who should I be in the world now?” I haven’t yet received a full answer, but am dedicated to the path.

Western society places a high premium on being “busy busy.” Judaism does too, even if the “busy busy” is from the outset infused with higher values. But sometimes this is counterproductive. We do need periods to stop, eliminate noise and clamor, slow things down, turn our focus to listening inwards. Turn down the volume so that we can hear Gd’s voice gently flowing within us.

This is the Elul mode. This is the meaning of the customs of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I believe.

We have to do this intentionally as it is not built into modern living. Shabbat and yom tov help, but only if we’re not spending the day running around, davening, socializing, eating, and falling into bed exhausted. This is why I attend weekend or week-long meditation retreats; they are the only place where I can really stop.

Consider Eliyahu Hanavi (the prophet Elijah). He had been extremely busy busy and running running running, showing up the false prophets of Baal, rebuking Ahab, fleeing from Jezebel. He flees to the desert, and travels alone 40 days and night to Mt Horev. There Gd speaks to him and aims to teach him that the divine revelation comes not through earthquake, wind and fire, but in the still small voice.

Note that Moshe Rabbenu (Moses), at the same exact spot, also had to leave the people and spend 40 days and nights alone with Gd, on a mountain top. Perhaps this period of isolation was necessary to prepare him to give over divine revelation — to become a worthy vessel? Surely it’s no coincidence, the lesson is there.

Realistically, the chances of us today going to be alone on a mountain for 40 days are quite slim. BUT we do have 40 days now before Yom Kippur. So — where is that desert or mountain top going to be for you, symbolically? Can you carve it out in your daily routine, or weekly routine — a time to prioritize breathing, reflecting; opening up, listening to soul; speaking quietly with Gd, if we can? Deepening our relationship, renewing commitments and intentionality?

Sweet Elul to us all.

About the Author
Yael Unterman is a Jerusalem-based international author, lecturer, Bibliodrama facilitator and life coach. Her first book "Nehama Leibowitz, Teacher and Bible Scholar" was a finalist in the 2009 National Jewish Book Awards . Her second book, a collection of fictional stories, "The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love & Longing", was a finalist for the USA Best Book Awards. Contact Yael if you would like to participate in Bibliodrama sessions on Zoom.
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