These days with all the distractions we face – radio, TV, computers, smart phones, Alexa – it is difficult to find the proper kavanah (concentration, intention) for teshuvah. Perhaps it was ever thus:
Rabbi Mendel of Rimanov (d.1815) often complained: “As long as there were no roads, you had to interrupt a journey at nightfall. Then you had all the leisure in the world to recite psalms, to open a book and to have a good talk with one another. But nowadays you can ride on these roads day and night and there is no peace anymore”. M.Buber Tales of the Chassidim Vol 2 p134.
Reform Jews have more frequently spoken of a Messianic age than a Messiah. But how might we today imagine that in our chaotic world? Kafka in the 1920s poignantly expressed the enigma:”The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last”.
As we move through the month of Elul we have the opportunity to work on ourselves, in the hope that we might begin a new year ready to make changes and to be the person we feel we could be. At Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birthday of the world, and as we begin 5780 we know that our actions are increasingly not only impacting on our ‘environment’ (as if we ourselves were somehow detached from it) but changing and endangering our futures in the world.
This Elul, therefore, Reform Judaism is focussing on what wisdom and reflection Judaism can offer us, and encourage us in the changes necessary to make a difference in the upcoming year. Though we begin with ourselves, we do not end with ourselves. The changes we make, in our attitudes, understanding and behaviour affect all around us – our families, communities, our work place, the organisations we belong to, the government and the world itself. It begins with us.
The texts and reflections for this series have been drawn together by Rabbi Jeffrey Newman and Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, together with members of the Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors who are credited individually when appropriate. Reflecting together and learning in partnership has made this a much more meaningful process for us, and if you have the time and someone willing, we hope these texts might also provide a wonderful opportunity for learning with a partner (or chavruta). As Pirkei Avot 1:6 says “make for yourself a teacher; acquire for yourself a friend”.