We introduce this poem of Dannie Abse (1923-2004), suggested by Rabbi Howard Cooper, to reinforce yesterday’s emphasis upon consciousness, paying attention and listening. It repays repeated readings, noting the punctuation.
At night, I do not know who I am
when I dream, when I’m sleeping.
Awakened, I hold my breath and listen:
a thumbnail scratches the other side of the wall.
At midday, I enter a sunlit room
to observe the lamplight on for no reason.
I should know by now that few octaves can be heard,
that a vision dies by being too long stared at;
that the whole of recorded history even
is but a little gossip in a great silence;
that a magnesium flash cannot illumine,
for one single moment, the invisible.
I do not complain. I start with the visible
and am startled by the visible.
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”.