Harry Zeitlin
Grateful Every Day, Modeh Ani Lefanecha!

Elul, First Step To Transcending—Just Do It

Parshat Shoftim, always read at the beginning of Elul, the run-up month to Rosh HaShana, begins Shoftim v’Shotrim Titeyn L’Cha B’Chol Sha’arecha. We’re instructed to create a justice system including judges and law enforcement. But it wasn’t until the Oral Torah was completed, 1500 years later, that we had detailed instructions as to how we were supposed to have done that. I think it’s fair to assume there the Torah includes the challenge to “figure it out for yourselves” in that and most other mandates. Similarly, although we believe that the Written Torah, The Tanach, was, in fact, given with full explanation to Moses at Sinai, even traditionally very few argued that it was given word-for-word as the Talmud later distilled it. We’re challenged to do our best to figure out how to fill in the details of at keast 613 mandates (Mitzvot).

Our weekly Musaf nusach, liturgy, includes the phrase Sh’Ta’aleynu b’Simcha L’Artzeynu, Lift us (lead us in Aliyah) joyously to Our Land, again without really explaining how that is supposed to look. No one is more supportive of Aliyah and the Mitzvah of Settling the Land than I, and, once again, I am blessed to, once again,after nearly 30 years away, live in Jerusalem. But with almost my entire family almost 7,000 miles away, it’s an unsolved mystery to me how to accomplish it with only joy, no sadness, in my heart. Once again, I’m left to work this out for myself.

Each year, as we approach and then enter the month of Elul, we are over-bombarded with cliché drashim, sermons, spelling out the month’s name in the letters Aleph-Lamed-Aleph-Lamed, then expanded to a key phrase in Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi Li, I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine, describing our ideal relationship with The Creator.

Superficially simple, we’re supposed to love God just as we experience God loving each of us. What that really means is that our love for God, ideally, is identical in every way with God’s love for us. Without explanation, we can’t even imagine what this might possibly be and how we, limited beings existing as physical bodies in time, can possibly emulate the Infinite, Unbounded, All-Powerful, All-Knowing Creator in any way or any action, especially Love. How can our relatively pathetic little love even be spoken in the same breath as God’s Infinite Love for each of us, not to mention for not only all mankind, but for all of Creation?

The answer is we don’t and can’t know. The best we can do is to try to emulate what we, stretching our minds and hearts, might imagine, is God’s Infinite Love. Just as God doesn’t hold back, are we willing to love, then to love even more and even more, without any feedback or hint that we’re reaching our goal or that our love is even perceived or reciprocated. Are we willing to go all out, to love “The Lord (y)our God with all (y)our heart, with all (y)our soul, with all (y)our material possessions?” Are we willing to dedicate outselves to entering a new year, a new cycle, full of new opportunities even though pre-loaded with our previous partial accomplishments and our mistakes, to forge always forward with no thought or feeling but Infinite Love for The Inifinite One and, therefore all His Creation?

Of course, we’ll fall short. We’re all limited human beings, or at least partially so. (That we’re, as part of God’s Infinite Creation, especially in the role of Human, Ben Adam, also Infinite with Infinite potential and capacity, we must at least partially believe that we really are capable of reaching God’s goals for us). But we all have an almost unlimited capacity to try to approach this pinnacle of love and connection, at least to remind ourselves that it’s within reach, Lo Rachok, not distant but Karov Maod, very very close. Within ourselves and surrounding each of us, is that capacity to experience Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi Li.

May we each be incribed for a year of only good.

About the Author
After almost 30 years, Harry Zeitlin returned home to Jerusalem! Growing up in Denver, CO, he began Torah studies at an early age. He also had the privilege of knowing and studying with Rabbi Shloime Twerski zt"l. He graduated from Yale College (BA 1974) with an independent degree in communications, theory-and-practice, focusing on filmmaking and linguistics. Harry had a 45+ year career as a professional artist (photography, to which he is just now returning!) and has played guitar for more than 50 years, in addition to his 30+ years as an orthodox rabbi teaching Torah across the denominational spectrum. He lived in Israel from 1982 - 1989 and returned in 2016. I'M BACK! Grateful every day! Follow his spiritual adventures. He is always available to speak, teach, present a Shabbaton or other workshop. ......or to serenade your group with his guitar.
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