Once, when I felt in despair, overwhelmed by the unmanageable heap of tasks and duties that faced me – as a rabbi, father, husband, son, neighbour, citizen – I spoke to a friend. ‘Have you ever,’ he replied, calmly, ‘not managed to complete your work?’
I thought. And, to my astonishment, at that moment, I seemed unable to recall such a time. On the whole, it seemed, things do fall in to place.
For those of us who keep Shabbat, something similar takes place week by week. Despite the immensity and impossibility of completing everything before lighting the candles, somehow all our tasks are done, the candles are lit and peace, at least for a moment, descends.
So it is in these times of fear and trembling, when the threats of terror strike our hearts and the world increasingly appears to be out of control; when starvation, poverty, migration and climate change threaten to overwhelm our resources and governments are impotent.
Once a year our cycle of festivals, move us from the fear and terror of Abraham’s knife threatening Isaac to the blessings of a harvest gathered and enjoyed. The sound of the shofar, the taste of apple and honey, Yom Kippur’s long day of reflection and return, the fragility of the Sukkah and the rewinding of the scroll for the new beginning as at last the new year finally begins – all of them provide a perspective to counterbalance our worldly concerns.
May we never forget those who suffer and our responsibilities towards them; but may their anger and frustration, their pain and needs not overwhelm us. Rather may this time of the year open us to find new resources and resourcefulness that we never before recognised. And may it be a good year for us, for the Jewish people and for the world.
Elul is a month given to us to reflect and prepare for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a month where we try to take account of our lives, so that we might make the most of this powerful time of renewal, regeneration, fresh starts and healing.
This year our daily Elul Thoughts are taken from ‘Terror, Trauma and Tragedy’, edited by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain and Rabbi David Mitchell. Each is a short extract of a larger piece designed to help us find meaning, comfort or perhaps more questions in the aftermath of horrific events, which have seemed all too frequent this year. The horror of such atrocities can leave us in confusion, depression and fear. As we move into a new year we hope these pieces might variously offer some solace, be a tool of self-reflection, and encourage us to continue working for a better world.