The days of Elul are a time, an opportunity a responsibility for us to re-imagine ourselves in our relationships with family, friends, work colleagues, community and acknowledge that our report card, for each and every one of us would read not simply “Could do better” but “Should do better”. Could, should, have given more time and thought, more care and kindness, listened more intently, been more proactive rather than reactive and in too many instances not even being reactive, but shamefully passive. When in the presence of an elderly frail parent in need of a hug or aware of a sick or lonely friend in need of a visit, or a work colleague in need of an arm around the shoulder, we chose to be blind and deaf – we choose not to hear their cry, see their need, or feel their vulnerability. So too during the years of the modern sovereign State of Israel there has been a reluctance on the part of Israeli and Palestinian to see each other’s tears, hear each other’s cry and feel each other’s vulnerability. The tears, cries and pain of the bereaved Palestinian mother are the equivalent of those of the bereaved Jewish Israeli mother. Perhaps peace, a just and comprehensive peace, will come only when each side makes an honest effort to learn and understand the aspirations and the anxieties of each other. Politicians on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, however, seem to lack either the will or the courage, or the vision to embark on a serious and sincere process for peace. Perhaps peace can come only from the bottom up, from pressure applied by the people, from the bereaved on both sides, electing and then encouraging politicians to become “rodfei shalom”, pursuers of peace.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century wrote that “Faith is a blush in the presence of God”. Faith is the acknowledgement of the gap between who we are and who we can and should be. The purpose of these days of Ellul culminating, climaxing in Yom Kippur, is for us to see that gap in ourselves and work hard on closing it. Clearly there is also a gap between what Israel is and what Israel can and should be.
But Israel is family, our family, and in expecting more of our family we must never be blind to its pain or its many qualities and considerable achievements. Back in 1977 Eugene Borowitz, Reform rabbi and theologian, wrote of Israel “With all their faults and failures, they remain recognisably the people of the Bible serving transcendent ends in a perilous situation.” I would contend with conviction and passion that we can repeat these words today, with justifiable pride
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.