3 Elul 5773
I am not good at knowing who or what G-d is and this year I wanted to reflect on the High Holy Days before they arrived. For years I had the intention of entering Elul softly, using the whole month to prepare with introspection for the Days of Awe. This Elul I really wanted to do it and not knowing where to start, I sought help from the rabbi who suggested that I begin by going into nature and just listening.
So here I find myself, in the hills not far from my house. I am sitting alone on the bank of a dry, deserted creek bed. Stretching to the right and left of me are all manner of boulders, rocks and pebbles sitting in the hot, sandy bottom. There are scruffy stands of straw and sticks leaning crazily between the rocks. Any greenness that was here disappeared long ago. Across this parched bed is the base of a mountain. Everything is covered in a fine dust.
What a place, I think. Maybe the rabbi had something else in mind, like the beach or the bank of a lush, flowing river, perhaps with green grass and willow tree or two. But this is where I live. Feeling that I had to explain my choice I start talking to G-d.
“I came here because I was born here – was raised near the brown and grey chaparral.” Not knowing if my point was clear enough I continued: “This is where YOU put ME. And this isn’t a river bed, by the way. It’s an arroyo. That’s what we call them here: Arroyo seco, a dry river bed.”
“So this is MY arroyo” I continue. “You had places like this in the old days, a wadi you called it, where the tribes wandered”.
I imagine that this is a good place to start, a basis for our conversation. I forget that I am supposed to listen. I sum up the situation simply: My arroyo, your wadi.”
Before I have a chance to think of anything else to say, I hear an answer back. Don’t ask me what the voice sounds like because I can’t tell you. I hear it but it has no sound. It’s as if my whole body can hear. The Voice says very slowly: “No . . . this is MY arroyo and that was YOUR wadi.”
I sit frozen. Hashem has my full attention. “That was MY wadi? Way back then, that was mine – where the tribes wandered?”
“Yes. I made that for you.”
I don’t understand it, yet accept it without question. I think of the Jewish proverb: “Man should always have two pockets. In one he shall write ‘I am but dust and ashes’. In the other, ‘The world was created for me alone’.” I stop talking, stop thinking, and feel what it is like to know without believing.
I scan anew this arroyo that I have known all my life but isn’t mine. I see the base of the mountain. Slowly I raise my eyes and keep looking up until the mountain top comes into view against the sky.
Without thought I find myself transfixed and ask “If that was MY wadi, then could this mountain be MY Sinai?”
“Yes”, comes the answer.
I think of the coming Days of Awe and continue forming words that I hear for the first time only as I speak them. “So if that was my wadi and this is my Sinai, where does the sound of the shofar come from?”
Hashem is pleased with my question. “For that, you’ll have to listen.”
I learned that one must be still to listen. I can listen where I am.
Elul beckons us to set aside a time for this greatest of gifts.