Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Tishrei 1 5782, Rosh Hashanah

 Tishrei 1, 5782/September 7, 2021/Rosh Hashanah

Rabbi David N. Young

On behalf of the 18 rabbis who contributed to this year’s Elul Thoughts, I would like to thank you for reading with us every day this month. Teaching is an expression of love, and sharing our thoughts with you is a joy and an honor.

One way to express gratitude to someone who teaches us is to offer Tzedakah in their honor or to their organization. Some teachings suggest that starting the year with a gift of tzedakah is a way to guarantee a prosperous year. With that in mind, we encourage you to leave a donation for the discretionary fund of any or all of the rabbis who taught you something this past month. Every name below is linked to the appropriate synagogue for ease of giving.

We all wish you a shanah tovah umetukah, a happy and sweet 5782!

This year’s Elul Thoughts include contributions from:

Rabbi Michael Birnholz, Temple Beth Shalom, Vero Beach, FL

Rabbi Erin Boxt, Temple Beth El, Knoxville, TN

Rabbi Alan Cook, Sinai Temple, Champaign, IL

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, TX

Rabbi Ben David, Adath Emanu-El, Mt. Laurel, NJ

Rabbi Daniel Fink, Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel, Boise, ID

Rabbi Neal Katz, Congregation Beth El, Tyler, TX

Rabbi Brad Levenberg, Temple Sinai, Atlanta, GA

Rabbi Eric Linder, Congregation Children of Israel, Athens, GA

Rabbi Alan E. Litwak, Temple Sinai, North Miami Beach, FL

Rabbi Laurence Malinger, Temple Shalom, Aberdeen, NJ

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld, Congregation Albert, Albuquerque, NM (ret)

Rabbi Andrew Rosenkranz, Temple Beth Torah, Wellington, FL

Rabbi Benjamin Scharff, The Reform Temple of Rockland, Upper Nyack, NY

Rabbi Simone Schicker, Temple B'nai Israel, Kalamazoo, MI

Rabbi Stephen Wise, Shaarei-Beth El Congregation, Oakville, ON, Canada

Rabbi David N. Young, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, CA

You can follow any of us on Facebook or Twitter.

If you have missed any of these daily emails or want to go back and remember something from earlier in Elul, feel free to read them all at https://tinyurl.com/elulthoughts.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Elul 29 5781: "Preparing for the Transition of a New Year"

 Elul 29, 5781/September 6, 2021

Rabbi Laurence Malinger

“Preparing for the Transition of a New Year”

What do we need as we stand on the precipice of a transition into the start of a New Year; a year that has never existed before following a year that was among the most difficult of years? 

We need to share our principles and our standards so that all can understand them. We need to be educated, so that we know what it means to be a Jew, and so that we can remember to live and abide by those standards wherever this year takes us. 

We need to remember to be exuberant; that to be alive is a great privilege. And if we are not enjoying ourselves, we are wasting our time. 

Third, we need what the great philosopher Walter Kaufman called, "humbition.” Humbition is the combination of appropriate humility, and audacious ambition. We need to be personally humble, and have grand dreams of a world transformed; a world of justice, and compassion, and inclusion, and security, and decency. 

Finally, we need love. And we need to remember that the core of our religion is a God who so loved the world that God created us to have something to love. 

Armed with these four gifts, we will be able to face the future and whatever it brings, and we will be able to say next year, when we gather again, that this year was challenging, but we would not trade having lived it for anything in the world.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Elul 28 5781

 Elul 28, 5781/September 5, 2021

Rabbi Eric Linder

The Ever-Journeying People

The Jewish people are no strangers to transition. Abraham, left everything he knew to become the first Jew. We endured slavery for over 400 years before celebrating our freedom from Pharaoh. Then, we wandered in the desert for 40 years before entering the promised land. Jewish history is replete with transitions.

Every Rosh Hashanah marks a personal transition as well, as we move forward into the new year, and into a holier version of ourselves. 

This year, the transition is both communal and personal, as many of us are transitioning away from the past year that has had its fill of journeying, unease, and uncertainty.

As we hear the unifying shofar call of the tekiah g’dolah, I pray that all of us continue to transition toward communal responsibility, celebration, and shalom.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Elul 26-27 5781

 Elul 26-27, 5781/September 3-4, 2021

Every Friday we send a double portion of Elul Thoughts so that those who choose not to be on the internet over Shabbat can read Saturday’s offering in advance. Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Ben David 

I took up surfing last summer. It was a way to get away, commune a bit with nature, and reflect amid the summer months of the pandemic. I learned quickly that surfing is all about transitions: onto the board, onto your feet, riding a wave to the shore. It's about moving from one place to another. Resting to working. Prone to standing. Balance to imbalance. And then all over again. But it's also about moving to a place of humility and abounding patience. It’s a good metaphor for us, and a good metaphor during this holy day season, as we feel myriad transitions play out all around us. We enter a new year. We prepare for the start of school, the start of autumn, maybe a new chapter in life. Some of these transitions come easily, some less so. Especially this year, wearied by these past months of hardship and angst, our transitions are loaded. Are we ready to take off our mask? Is it safe to go out? Will praying in person feel scary or rejuvenating? Is it ok to be anxious, still? Like surfing, we must take our time with these transitions, be kind to ourselves, and exercise as much patience as possible.

Rabbi Andrew L. Rosenkranz

Isn’t it interesting that transitions almost inevitably cause anxiety and concern, while at the same time our Jewish tradition reminds us that transitions are almost always to be moments of joy and celebration?


The Hebrew calendar is marked with fixed times that commemorate changes that we are experiencing, whether it’s a change in the season or a change in our personal lives.  Rather than fear such transitions, our tradition teaches us to embrace such times and recognize the goodness that can come out of them.


Sukkot’s set time coincides with the annual agricultural harvest when we are commanded to rejoice before God.  The laws of mourning are suspended or cut short by certain holidays and festivals, because the mitzvah of rejoicing supersedes the change we are experiencing over the loss of a loved one.


The message is clear.  While something new may suddenly be introduced in our lives, God’s overall intent for humankind is to celebrate the gift of life.  Sometimes we know ahead of time that change is coming, while other times it hits us from out of nowhere.  


As we continue to experience the changes in our own lives, may we always be reminded that ultimately God wants us to celebrate with one another and exult in simply being alive in order to experience all that God has given us on this earth!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Elul 25 5781

 Elul 25, 5781/September 2, 2021

Rabbi Alan Cook

In 1991, Transitions brand adaptive eyeglasses were introduced to the market.  They were designed to make it more comfortable for glasses wearers to move from bright outdoor sunlight into gentler indoor lighting (and vice-versa) by quickly darkening or lightening as needed.

These lenses capitalize upon the physical properties of the plastic from which they are constructed in order to quickly change.  In our lives, we are not always so agile when it comes to adaptation.  A disruption in our routine, a change in expected norms, can be tremendously upsetting.  

Perhaps this is why the rabbis ordained that we spend the month of Elul in contemplation and preparation for the majesty and splendor of the High Holy Days: they understood that suddenly being summoned to stand before the Divine throne or being asked to enter into teshuvah without full contemplation of our past missteps might be too awe-full for us to bear.  Hearing the sound of the shofar, being attuned to changing melodies in our liturgy, seeing the Torah covers change to white, engaging in mindful contemplation all can help to smooth the transition into a new year so that the moment is not disjunctive from past experiences, but rather a meaningful continuation of this wonderful mystery we call life.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Elul 24 5781

 Elul 24, 5781/September 1, 2021

Rabbi Stephen Wise

In September of 1996 I’m sitting in a classroom with 20 students all of whom are embarking on an MA in Jewish Studies. I had no idea what I was doing there. Everyone else seemed so confident about the next steps in their career and this degree would help them achieve their goals.

That first day we were asked to take a large piece of butcher paper and trace our body on it. We were told to make it like a road map with pictures and stops along the way, each one important steps. We didn’t have to write what happened, just list them as points.  After we finished the professor told us to leave space at the bottom and create a path into the future.  What I most remember about this exercise was the value of looking back and marking the important stops along the way in my life that led me to where I was.

In the book of Numbers, chapter 33, God does this same exercise with the Israelites, listing the 42 stops they made from Egypt to the promised land, forcing them to remember each step and what happened along the way. If you were to try this exercise today, what would the milestones be in your life journey? This is the season of taking stock of where our life has taken us and then where we hope to continue.  Let's use these days of Elul to sharpen our focus and find the signposts for the year ahead.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Elul 23 5781

 Elul 23, 5781/August 31, 2021

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker

There are times when it can seem hopeless. We go through this every year. Stop, reflect, repent, do better. To do better we have to change and people don’t like to change. We don’t like to change. It’s hard to change. 

Judaism asks us to do many hard things. It’s our sacred responsibility to offer hospitality, to be honest, to avoid gossip and evil speech (in person, on social media), to do acts of loving kindness, to comfort mourners, to allow people to think differently, to make peace between individuals, to judge others fairly, to feel and express gratitude, to pray and study regularly. This is just a small list of mitzvot – sacred obligations.

Judaism does not teach us to do these things because everyone else does them. We do them because even though they are hard, they are at the core of who we are as Jews. Out of our relationship with God, our relationship with our People, the wisdom of our tradition – in some way they address us and point us in the right direction. Such teachings point the way to become a mensch – a full human being.

It’s not hopeless to strive to do better. It’s not hopeless to stop doing what’s easy and instead make every effort to become the person we hope to be. It may not be easy, but it is among the most important things we can do.