Friday, August 25, 2006

Can You Guess Who Wrote This?

(Painting by Victor Brindatch)


ELUL

The Jewish calendar is full of notations, red letter days that are meant to be both particular reminders as well as part of a uniform one: Time is passing; the sands of life have run out a bit more; the beard is grayer and the limbs just a touch heavier. Time. The Jewish calendar is a watchman of time, a ram's horn that blows not once a year but every time that a new cycle begins.

Every week is marked by a Sabbath that notes not only the end of the week passed but the beginning of a new one. It is both a reminder of seven full days passed out of our life - so soon!- as well as the opportunity to make the next period fuller, more meaningful, a reason for being.

Every month is marked by a Rosh Chodesh, the consecration of the new beginning of yet another lunar cycle. The wheel of heaven has revolved yet another thirty days - so soon! - and we are that much older. Hashem now gives us another month to prove that we are also that much wiser. It is not only another month, it is a new month. Above all, it is called Rosh Chodesh, the "head of the month". Is there perhaps here a hint to see how much wisdom has filled our heads during the mistakes and sins of the past one….?

And every year has its Rosh Hashana, that peculiarly Jewish day in which there are no parties and abandonment of restraint; in which there is no hilarious laughter and noise that is a frantic and frenetic attempt to convince all (and oneself) that he is happy; there is no frantic clutching at pleasure before it escapes and - worse - before I pass on; too soon, too soon. There is Rosh Hashana, the time post. Another year gone by - already? So soon! - and it is a time to see what the gray hairs and the added wrinkles and the slower reflexes have taught us. Rosh Hashana is one step closer to the gateway out of this world and into the next one. It is a time to rehearse the speech that we will make - all of us - some day, before the Supremest of courts, as we attempt to explain the meaning of our lives below.

Life is too short for fools. It is too long for those who know it was not given for happiness (if that comes, how wonderful, but how often does it appear, only in insignificant measures and at rare times, as drops of rain that fall on a parched desert leaving no impact, changing nothing so that the traveler never knows it fell). Life was given for holiness and sanctity, so that we might rise ourselves; so that we might consecrate and hallow that animalism within us that threatens at every moment to escape and express itself in selfishness, ego and greed - sins that are themselves only the corridors to the crimes of cruelty and hurting others. Life is not a happy thing - it is a beautiful thing, and when one becomes the artist and artisan of that beauty that is called holiness, when one practices the supreme holiness that comes of loving and giving of oneself.

"Ani l'dodi v'dodi li…I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." The words of the greatest of love poems, Song of Songs; great because it is that purest of love, between the Almighty and the House of Israel. Consider them, for do they do not contain the essence and secret of true love? Do they not clearly cry out the difference between that counterfeit which passes for it today in our ill world? "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." When I am my beloved's, when I give to her and give of myself and live to do for her and make her happy - then I am guaranteed that she is mine for she will, in turn, be doing the same for me. The lovers who think of giving to each other must receive from each other. This is love, this desire to give, this desire to sacrifice and do for the other.

Not for nothing was the Song of Songs called by the incomparable Rabbi Akiva, "the Holy of Holies" of all the books of Tanach. For the kind of love expressed in it IS holiness. Holiness is to escape from the selfishness and greed of the animal; it is to smash the passions and desires of the ego; it is to master the will that makes man seek only his own gratification. And is not love just that, in practice? Is not love exactly that, if it is true love?

And not for no reason did the rabbis see in the Hebrew letters of the month of Elul the first letters of "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li…I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." Elul is the month of tshuva, return and introspection. It is the month of scraping away the ego that has settled and crusted our hearts and souls. If Pesach calls for searching out the leaven in the home, Elul decrees removing it - the yeasty and bloated ego - from the soul. It is a time to note the calendar, the graying and aging, and to realize: Not for nonsense was I born and not with nonsense must they bury me.

Be good. Love. Love selflessly; cease speaking evil, cease thinking evil; cease searching out evil in your fellow human beings. Cease seeking to grow at the expense of others. For one who climbs on top of the man he has just chopped down is not taller. He is the same dwarf standing on his victim's height. Be wary lest you hurt the one you love. Think before you act towards the other person. Be good as a person, as an individual, and your part of the world has become holy. Then, if others emulate you, the world will suddenly and automatically turn beautiful and hallowed. It is Elul. Think of your beloved - all the people of the earth - and think of your particular beloved. Give of yourself and you will receive that which no amount of grasping and scheming can ever bring you: self-respect. Love the other and you will learn to like yourself. Be holy, for the One who made you is Holy and for this He placed you on this earth.

It is another Elul, yet another one. How many more are left?

19 Comments:

At August 25, 2006 at 10:09:00 AM EDT, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

Shlomo Carlebach

 
At August 25, 2006 at 10:14:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Good guess. It kind of sounds like him, doesn't it?

But...this is not the right answer.

 
At August 25, 2006 at 10:41:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Aish Kodesh?

 
At August 25, 2006 at 10:43:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Another good guess, but once again this is a wrong answer.

You will be amazed once you learn the answer.

 
At August 25, 2006 at 10:47:00 AM EDT, Blogger Ezzie said...

I guess it's not R' Yisroel Salanter (certain parts are similar to other things he's said).

 
At August 25, 2006 at 10:53:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Hmmmmm, how about a hint to point is in a direction?

 
At August 25, 2006 at 10:53:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Ezzie: No, it is not R' Salanter.

 
At August 25, 2006 at 10:55:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Chabakuk Elisha: He lived until the 1990's.

 
At August 25, 2006 at 10:55:00 AM EDT, Anonymous shoshana (bershad) said...

I don't know the answer, but I have to tell you: it is one of the most moving passages I have ever read! It's very relevant, in so many ways, to my life. Thank you for posting it!

 
At August 25, 2006 at 10:56:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Shoshana: Based on the hint I just gave, do you care to take a guess?

 
At August 25, 2006 at 11:45:00 AM EDT, Anonymous shoshana (bershad) said...

Aha, I've found it! The answer is in your blog post of Sept 21, 2005.

It's Rabbi Meir Kahane!

 
At August 25, 2006 at 12:11:00 PM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

WOW - Thanks for posting it!

 
At August 25, 2006 at 2:05:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great posting and perfect for today!

 
At August 27, 2006 at 10:00:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Neshama said...

Is it Shlomo Carlebach?

 
At August 27, 2006 at 10:01:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Neshama said...

I see I didn't read all the posts. Sorry.

 
At August 28, 2006 at 1:46:00 AM EDT, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Definitely was thinking along the lines of Shlomo Carlebach or the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Was not expecting Meir Kahane! A very powerful piece to comtemplate...thank you for posting it...

 
At August 28, 2006 at 6:32:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Exactlty! I guess it is another reason to judge people favorably.

 
At August 28, 2006 at 8:05:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

When was this first published?

 
At August 28, 2006 at 8:08:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Bob: I will have to check tonight. It is included in a one of his book's of essays. If I remember correctly, it might have first been published in the late 1970's.

 

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