Fear and Loving in Chodesh Elul
For the truly devout, the month of Elul marks the beginning of the period of reflection and repentance. The Shofar, a highlight of the High Holiday season, blown to awaken us to Judgment Day is brought on gradually with a daily appearance in the morning service during this month. Selichot, the liturgy of repentance is recited in Elul. Growing up in an Orthodox home and being educated in Yeshivot I remember, perhaps not so fondly, the change in environment and the constant reminder that we are being watched and judged ever more closely during this season. The summer of fun and vacation had given way to trepidation.
In my youthful mind I took it personally and I was not dissuaded in that thought process by my parents or teachers. I visualized the image of God as a white bearded man sitting on a throne with a book open to a page with my name on it and He is checking off the good and bad things being done by me, his face judgmental and exhibiting no warmth or compassion. It’s a cute imagery and serves to get one thinking, but Judaism is a very collective, complex and multi layered religion. The fear I have today is much less personal; my fate is my fate. While my practice and observance may differ from the education I received, I am comfortable with my relationship with God. I am all too aware of where I am lacking and what needs improvement. God knows it too in His macro/micro way. Yet I take literally the title we give God, Avinu Malkenu, our father our king. A king allows his children certain indulgences and has a parental instinct to see the good even in his rebellious kids. This is not just my own fantasy this is an integral part of the Jewish faith.
The beauty of this season according to our tradition is that all one has to do is ask God for forgiveness and it is granted. God, on Yom Kippur forgives even non-believers by virtue of the holiness of the day. Nonetheless, most of us Jews will go to synagogue on Yom Kippur, pray, listen to a sermon, sing traditional melodies and acknowledge the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, some of us will even repent and mean it.
Still, fear is a good attribute to have this season and it has nothing to do with what The Holy One Blessed Be He has in store for us personally. The fear I have this year much more than in others, is the fate of the world and in particular Jews. These are scary times, perhaps as frightening to the Jewish world as the rise of Nazism was in the nineteen thirties. While we now have a strong Israel, something that was but a dream back then, she is not at peace and is facing the prospect of a future full of terror and unrest. Whatever is afflicting Israel has been turning west for quite some time. The enemy is emboldened and has taken to shocking barbarity to have its way. This is not a war that can be won with the unconditional surrender of the enemy. This is a war that pecks away at the foundations of free societies. The enemy is in no rush to win; they are content to continuously instill fear in us and to take advantage of our weaknesses and wait thousands of years if necessary to impose their murderous ideology on us. When I pray this High Holiday season, my focus will be far less on me and much more on us.
Additionally, I will pray for my Christian brothers and sisters who are being slaughtered because of their beliefs throughout the Muslim world and I will cry about the deafening silence and indifference of the civilized West to their plight. I will question God as to why enlightened people find time and energy to protest Israel for defending herself while Jihadists crucify and behead Christians, other Muslims and minorities with nary a peep from those hypocritical moralists.
According to our tradition God will forgive us for the sins we committed against Him. He does not forgive us for sins committed against our fellow man. Omission and silence in the face of mass murder is a sin against man as we are all too aware. Even amongst us Jews we are quicker to criticize the actions of the Israeli government and army than we are to scream out about the wanton murder of Christians, Kurds, Yazhidis and others.
Whether or not you believe the Holy Temples were destroyed because of baseless hatred it is a great parable for today. The world is seemingly falling apart despite the leader of the free world declaring, that “the world has always been a messy place.” Perhaps so, but that messiness comes from a lack of love. Every religion preaches love yet it is the hatred grabbing the headlines. Therein lies the basis of our woes. What we need this season is a lot more fear and a lot more love.