14 Elul 5773
By Dr. Martin Graffman
The days of Elul are a time for questions and reflections that often unsettle, sting and provoke us. What if God – not Michelangelo’s deity or the whirlwind or the voice of the turtle – is simply the “real,” the reality, the truth of what is or “Is” from which we cannot escape? What if God is always there, in and around us if only we choose to recognize Him, or Her or It? What if God is my conscience, your conscience or the world’s? And what if God does not command anyone to obey but instead asks us to choose what is best for us? If we choose wisely we are more likely to grow, survive and experience pleasure and if we don’t, we will more likely experience pain, destruction and death.
And the Elul litany continues. What if God requires us to first take care of ourselves so we can feel safe enough, confident enough and powerful enough to turn to help others? And what if God, the big “Is,” claims talk is cheap and until we transform talk into reality and begin to actually repair or transform ourselves and the world, we will be stuck in a quagmire of discontent and yearning?
Is there a quid pro quo? What if God claims that we who wish to enjoy our lives must engage in a periodic taking stock of our lives? And if our analyses reveal that some of the things we do are inadequate or not working and others are right on target, then we must act. Are the High Holy Days an opportunity to freely and honestly compare our screw ups and successes with our friends, neighbors and family who are just like us because they are us? If so, perhaps we might discover we are not so bad and we are even good. We might find a way to become both better and able to celebrate our happiness with them.
How do we, how do I, resolve the questions of Elul, the ambiguities of the High Holy Days? What if, and I cautiously suggest “if,” the High Holy Days can be a source of gratification? What if Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can be the source of here-and-now guiltless pleasure? And not only a pleasure of the here-and-now but also pleasure in tomorrow. Does God want me to buy dark chocolate cream truffles at Mrs. Sees, if only to satisfy my sweet tooth or eat a hot pastrami sandwich at my favorite deli to fill up my need for soul food? Perhaps God wants me to buy my wife a tchotchke to show her I love her. Maybe I should vote and write to my Congressman to reduce my political frustrations; work in and contribute to Mitzvah Meals to reduce my sad awareness of hungry people. It’s possible for me to tell a friend or neighbor, to his face, that he’s important to me and, as a bonus, confront my fear of possible rejection. I might even go on a diet and start walking so that I can feel physically “good.” I might write a check to The Wounded Warriors to authenticate my gratitude toward them. I might even act like a mensch instead of fantasizing about becoming one and actually see myself as the mensch when I dare to look in the mirror.
I do not need a parental God, religion or holy days to survive anymore. I’m an adult and I long ago was forced to give up my childish things. I can now view the days of Elul, the High Holy days, God, Judaism my Rabbi and my interdependent congregation as “friends,” who offer me an opportunity to find ways to personally thrive – if I choose to be smart and courageous enough to recognize and use them. I might even look forward to joining them.