Some of us, when we consider our lives, may need to take ourselves apart, into nature, to find our own way of turning, teshuvah, repentance. Perhaps we have been taught not to trust our own natures, or could it be that we need to resist some darker parts of our inner selves to allow us to connect more deeply with creation, and less with what we can consume from it.
Rabbi Shalom Shakhna, the son of Abraham the Angel, lost both his parents when he was very young and grew up in the house of Rabbi Nahum of Tchernobil who gave him his grand daughter to wife. However some of his ways were different from Rabbi Nahum’s and unpleasing to him. He seem to be very fond of show, nor was he constant in his devotion to the teachings. The hasidim kept urging Rabbi Nahum to force Rabbi Shalom to live more austerely.
One year during the month of Elul, a time when everyone contemplates the turning to God and prepares for the Day of Judgement, Rabbi Shalom, instead of going to the House of Study with the others, would betake himself to the woods every morning and not come home until evening. Finally Rabbi Nahum sent for him and urged him to learn a chapter of the Kabbalah every day and to recite the psalms as did the other young people at this season. Instead he was idling and loafing in a way particularly ill-becoming to one of his descent.
Rabbi Shalom listened silently and attentively. Then he said: “It once happened that a duck’s eggs were put into a hen’s nest and she hatched them. The first time she went to the brook with the ducklings they plunged into the water and swam merrily out. The hen run along the bank in great distress, clucking to the audacious youngsters to come back immediately lest they drowned. “Don’t worry about us mother,” called the ducklings, merrily.” We needn’t be afraid of the water, we know how to swim.”
Shalom Shakhna of Probishtch
M Buber Tales of the Chasidim Vol 2 p49
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”.