Before the New Year, For the New Year
The significance of various periods in our Jewish calendar makes our life thoughtful, reflective and meaningful. With regard to the inner denotation of Elul, it is an unparalleled time in Jewish calendar. On Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Pesach, Hanukkah, Purim, Shavuot, our reflections are renewed annually while still being on the same subjects, events and sensations. During Elul, we are introspecting, or are supposed to do it, the previous, just lived on, year, with analyzing it and ourselves, with thinking, planning, hoping, aspiring as the days of every Elul are getting us closer to Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish annual border-line between our immediate past and our immediate future, the time of a year filled with thoughts, regrets, late understanding, and ever popping up hopes. So there is never the same Elul, all these 29 days of the month preceding Rosh HaShanah, for each and every of us. And thus, it is always interesting because of the authentic novelty and almost total personification of every given Elul.
Aspects of Elul
In a popular and useful special spiritual chart of Elul known as Elulgram, every day of our pre-Rosh HaShanah month is defined with a verb commanding a day of our mental preparation for entering the new year of our lives. Two models of Elulgram are known, which are slightly different in the order of the dominant actions of a day. More logical seems to be the one which starts from Prepare for Elul 1st and ends with Return for Elul 29th.
From the 29 days of Elul defined in the chart, only three days do not have a direct connection to the process of creativity, the days expecting us to count, to forgive and to judge (ourselves), although the last imperative is a part of the creative process, but rather in its post-creative period.
The remaining 26 days of Elul imply the qualities that a creative person is busy with organically.
My interest in the mutual impact of spirituality and art while thinking on the month of Elul is to reflect and to show this specific inter-influence.
The imperatives for the days of Elul in our activities and thoughts could be divided, from the point of view of creative process, into three groups:
Preparations & Actions, needed for creative process; Results of the creative process; and Emotional Outcome of the creative process, during the month of Elul. These groups in their essence can be also defined as Prepare, Change, and Hope.
Prepare, Change, Hope
The first group, Preparations & Actions, includes the following days marked by certain actions we are expected, and recommended to take: to prepare, act, know, do, be, hear, and see (as a common deed, philosophically, too), learn, ask, dare, end-begin (also, as a continuing process of two days emphasizing uninterrupted way of thoughts, feelings and intentions).
In my work Challenges. Questions and Answers (2020), I am addressing this group of intentions, which lead us, during Elul.
In another work, Life-line I (2020), I reflected on the process of self-introspection graphically, when a person amid the daily routine is stopped for a moment to check upon his or her own actions — with oneself, hopefully with one’s better self, calmer, deeper, more reflective one, one from another dimension, or another aspect. There is no more authentic time for doing it than Elul.
This group of our mental and spiritual efforts that lie in every act of creative process includes such definitions as accept, trust, remember, awaken, change (twice during the month of Elul, the only effort, which is defined for two days of the month), give, and return.
While analyzing our concrete lives, we are always referring, even if subconsciously so, to the balance between Good and Evil. Sometime, an artist can see it in a graphic way, too.
Even in our philosophical approach to life, it sometimes (quite rarely, actually) looks like a composition in black and white, the shape of polar substances is so similar often. It is all detail, nuance, intentions and motivations that are not that visible, most of the time. One really needs to have his or her moral compass in perpetually working order to distinct in often amorphous and sometimes quite similar shapes of the forces of good and those of the opposite, in order to live one’s life decently. To be able to awake at the decisive moment, to trust your moral compass, to follow it, to change one’s trajectory if necessary.
This artwork is about this ever-present challenge for every one of us.
We are living in a complex world, more so when we think about the processes ever going on different energies’ existence and functioning, in all too familiar, but very intricate process. Not always the circumstances of our lives and events of it are depending on us, but we, the people, are the unique kind of living creatures who do have a choice. Some of us realize it better, some worse, some are getting it earlier in their lives, some later on, but the existence of the choice is the highest privilege in human life, even if a choice could be a dramatic, or difficult one. Still, we are able to choose, to make a decision, to undertake a deed. It is recognized in our mental preparations throughout Elul in mentioning some definitions from this group of our efforts: to trust, to accept, to change.
In my work Contraction II (2020), interpreting the process of contracting energy in the complex space of infinity before the Creation, for giving space for Creation to happen, the faces of people appeared there is a reminding of our humanity, our presence in life, the presence that we ought to remember about despite human fragility, and actually, because of it. These faces are as if signalling us, both from the past and also from the future, that in our space of this infinity, it is humanity that defines our existence.
And of course, Elul is about remembrance. Every month in our Jewish calendar is truly about remembrance, and every day and every night, too. During Elul, however, our remembrance deepens, as all our efforts do. Such is this special month.
When we slow down — as we supposed to do during the coming 29 days of Elul annually — our memory works its own way, and it could be as unexpected as it gets. But in the case of the Jewish people, who are keen to honor their dramatic history, memory is essentially warm. I do believe it.
My work, Memory Wind II (2020), is about that inner light or the other people, those who lived before us, those whom we remember — not only during Elul, but in the time of Elul, with an extra effort — that makes our memory warm and special.
The same memory that provides our life with meaning also warms it up. This enduring warmth of memory is also reflected in my other work, Life of Sparks I. We know that sparks of many souls who were living in this world once still exist. It is up to us to perceive them, to recognize them, and to feel their presence. When memory is warm, it is also warming up. The world becomes more comfortable, more accommodative, and nicer to live this way.
When thinking of the third group of spiritual dimensions of our lives during Elul, the group that embraces such categories as bless, believe, pray, love and hope, I am facing a certain tautology here: normally, soulful art is based on those things, Elul or not. Still, this month of our mental and spiritual preparations for the next year of our lives do imply an extra weight for these main expressions of inner-selves, for many people.
In the special time of year, when we are doing a year-back check and re-examining our pros and cons, with this kind of honesty, when a human being is talking to himself or herself, without having the luxury to create various excuses, the understanding of some patterns of our lives sometimes flashes in the most unexpected way. In the space of this ever-present balance of good and evil, such understanding, even if it could be sobering, still is healthy and truly energizing. It can be helpful and it can be encouraging. And it can be beautiful too, as the process of achievement of clarity of mind is a beautiful thing.
This is the theme of my artwork, Beauty of Understanding (2020) .
The summary of our different, but still one-vectored efforts during the 29 days of Elul can be formulated in one word: quest. Soul’s quest.
With the annual process of self-introspection, we are coming with open-ended results, which we do not necessarily understand in full detail, nor are those results fixed ever, in our ongoing stream of lives. Our efforts in preparing, our readiness to change, our striving to hope all come together in this massive quest of our souls.
What would the next year be like for me, my family, my friends? Towards the end of Elul, this quest gets more anxious, but also more hopeful, completely in accord with humanity’s vulnerable, but enduring nature.
Towards the end of Elul, our understanding of ourselves gets more structured, and our hopes are getting its more daring shape, our request — and our quest — gets simpler, more open, and disarming.
I have tried to reflect on it from the artistic perspective. One big plus in such a reflection is that it always provides a wide space for interpretation, being able to accommodate, I hope, aspirations of so many different views.
Especially in so much daring, but also such hope, in this special month of Elul.