Friday, September 18, 2020

29 Elul-1 Tishrei

Rabbi Nancy Rita Myers

We are now at the end of the Hebrew month of Elul, and the time of preparing for our High Holy Days ends tonight. Preparation will be over, and the work of forgiveness begins. Forgiving and asking for forgiveness are essential themes of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Maimonides, a great sage who lived in the Middle Ages, wrote “It is forbidden for a person to be cruel and refuse to be appeased. Rather, he should be easily pacified, but hard to anger. When the person who wronged him asks for forgiveness, he should forgive him with a complete heart and a willing spirit. Even if he aggravated and wronged him severely, he should not seek revenge or bear a grudge.”

Maimonides teaches the importance of forgiveness.  However, letting go of our disappointment, anger, hurt, and pain can at times feel impossible.  I have struggled with it for years.  On my mother’s side of the family, people keep grudges for decades. Yikes!  I have found though if I can understand the other person’s pain, grief, insecurity, and fear; it is much easier to let things roll off my back.  I ask myself what challenges is the other person facing? Could they be having a hard time at work, in school, with their family, or significant other?  When I’m able to see the person as one who is also struggling, I’m less likely to be offended or wounded by their words or actions.  I’ve found that with compassion, it is easier to be appeased.

On behalf of all of us who participated in Elul Thoughts 5780, we wish you and yours a Shanah Tovah Umetukah! May the New Year be good and sweet for you and your loved ones!


As we move from 5780 to 5781, we want to thank those of you who have been reading our Elul Thoughts, especially if you have been reading them for eight years. One of the great High Holy Day texts reminds us that T’shuvah, T’filah, and Tzedakah help nullify judgment’s severe decree. We hope we have put you on the road toward T’shuvah (repentance) with these daily messages. That is surely our goal. We also hope to have gotten you in the mood for T’filah (prayer) of the High Holy Days. If you have appreciated these messages, we also hope you will consider a gift of Tzeddakah to one or all of the synagogues represented by these daily Elul thoughts. Your gifts help keep us inspired to bring messages of renewal to our congregations.


Thank you, and Shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Heidi Cohen, Hanefesh, Orange County, CA

Rabbi Matthew Cohen, Congregation B’nai Israel, Galveston, TX

Rabbi Benjamin David, Adath Emanu-El, Mount Laurel, NJ

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 Larry Malinger, Temple Shalom, Aberdeen, NJ 

Rabbi Nancy Rita Myers, Temple Beth David, Westminster, CA

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld, Congregation Albert, Albuquerque, NM

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

Rabbi Michael Sommer, Har-Shalom Synagogue, Northbrook, IL

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

Rabbi Michael Weinstein, Temple Israel, Tulsa, OK

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

Thursday, September 17, 2020

28 Elul, 5780

Rabbi Larry Malinger

Letting Go

Many of us are burdened by unresolved anger and hostility – at so many people and places that we interact in our lives. Frequently we turn this anger inward against ourselves. We burden ourselves with guilt – some real, but mostly imagined. “I should have said this,” “or not said this,” or, “I could have done (or not done) that,” or, “coulda, shoulda, woulda . . .” – the most corrosive words in the English language because they can destroy personality and make people live their lives in a self-created fantasy of their past.

It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to let go of all of the cares and troubles and concerns and rationalizations that we carry with us. Somehow we think that we are so important, that our cares and our perspectives are so vital, that we can’t possibly put them down. As we enter a new year, it occurs to me that this is a good time to reflect on what we are carrying into the year ahead, and what, perhaps, we might be able to let go? 

This season calls upon us to let go of anger, hostility, and guilt and to forgive ourselves. Forgiveness is the key to understanding this season and to unlocking our own hearts. Forgiveness of others for their slights, wrongs and for inflicting pain, whether by word or deed, whether intentionally or accidentally, only works when we muster the strength to let go of our own accumulated destructive feelings and forgive ourselves.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

27 Elul, 5780

Rabbi Michael Sommer

You are only given one day at a time. Each day, take a deep breath and make what you can of that day. God always appreciates the thought you put into your every moment. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

26 Elul, 5780

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff

In a fantastical story found in the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son hid in a cave to avoid the Roman authorities. They remained isolated there for twelve years. During this time God provided them with water and a carob tree. They demonstrated their devotion to God by praying and studying every day. Only when informed of the death of the emperor by Elijah, did they finally leave the cave. They were ordered back to the cave by the Bat Kol, the voice of God, where they remained for another twelve months. 

According to tradition and legend, it was during this time that Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar, the great text of Jewish mysticism.

Eventually Shimon bar Yochai and his son left the cave. There they encountered a world different from the one where they had left. Jews were still engaged in Torah study, but its expression had transformed due to the oppressive rule of the Romans. 

Our tradition tends to view asceticism and isolation with apprehension. Judaism is based on the principles of community, interaction, and engagement. Yet, here in the Talmud, we do find lessons of inspiration that can come out of isolation. What great mystical works are we working on for ourselves during this challenging time? Where are we finding substance from the wellspring of holiness? What rituals can we employ to keep our souls aloft? 

When we come out of this, the world will be different. Will we be prepared to encounter it? Or will we wish to return to our caves?

Monday, September 14, 2020

25 Elul, 5780

Rabbi Eric Linder

On Yom Kippur, we read a beautiful section toward the end of Deuteronomy. It is Moses’ last speech to the Israelites, as he reminds them who they are:

You are standing before God in order to enter into the Covenant of God and take the oath that God makes with you, so that God may fulfill God’s promise to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is not with you alone, but with those who are here and those who are not here that God makes this Covenant and oath.

Typically, each of us are able to look around the sanctuaries and see the faces of our congregation as these words are read. We are able to see that indeed, Atem Nitzavim, all of us are indeed here.

Many of our synagogues will be (mostly) empty during the High Holidays, but the portion still retains its power. Physically, it doesn’t matter if we are standing under Mount Sinai, in our gorgeous sanctuaries, or in the privacy of our homes. We are Jews and we continue to reaffirm our commitment to Jewish life. And so I think that this year, this portion will be even more powerful: Yes, we are physically distanced. Yes, we are missing the intimacy and warmth of our holy spaces. And even so, Atem Nitzavim. We will stand together.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

24 Elul, 5780

Rabbi David N. Young

One thing we need a lot of lately is levity. This pandemic has been difficult for a great many of us, so to lighten the mood a little, I would like to share a story I learned from my friend and colleague Rabbi Fred Guttman.

There were three rabbis on a boat during the month of Elul. 

The discussion quickly turned to what the greatest sin that each had committed and what each individual rabbi wanted to work on during this month. 

One rabbi said “You know I love to go out occasionally and have a lobster. I do it in a town far away from my congregation where no one in the congregation will see me. That is my biggest sin.”

The second rabbi said “My biggest sin that I'm a cheater. No, I do not cheat on my spouse but I do cheat on my taxes.”

They look at the third rabbi who absolutely refused to talk. They begged him, "Tell us what is your biggest sin?" 

The rabbi refused to tell them. 

Eventually, with a little more coercing, the rabbi finally said the following. “My biggest sin is a sin of gossiping and I really must admit I can hardly wait to get off of this boat!"

May we continue to laugh with each other, and at the same time remember to always watch what we say.

Friday, September 11, 2020

22-23 Elul, 5780

 On Fridays, we give you a double portion of our Elul Thoughts so that we can all take a rest from our electronics on Shabbat. Enjoy!

Rabbi Matt Cohen

Shifting Our Focus

How many of us have celebrated a major life milestone since the onset of Covid-19? It goes without saying that a socially distanced, masked-up, 15-minute drive-by birthday or anniversary celebration leaves us feeling less-than totally satisfied. Even with the thoughtful gesture of our family and friends, it is still a painful reminder of the complete lack of normalcy during this difficult time in our lives. It reminds us that we simply cannot celebrate the monumental moments the proper way they should be done. While major milestones only happen once-a-year or in some cases, even once-in-a-lifetime, perhaps our focus needs to be on the more frequent, seemingly smaller, moments which allow us to recognize and celebrate the true blessings in our lives. 

How many of us woke up this morning and took in that first conscious breath? Did you thank God for restoring your soul in mercy and trust? Were you grateful for the gift of life, full of opportunities to add more holiness to your life and the world around you? Every new day is a Divine gift that should not be taken for granted. Our tradition calls us to recognize and celebrate the moments that occur more frequently, the ones that are, indeed, not so small or insignificant. As we enter this sacred time of year, let us be grateful for the gift of another day. Let us be conscious of that first breath which will enable us to recognize the myriad blessings in our daily lives, especially those on our electronic devices to whom we will soon wish, “Shabbat Shalom and Gut Yuntiff!”  

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Each week we transition from Shabbat, to the "ordinary" with Havdalah. As part of the ritual, we smell sweet spice to help us remember the shabbesdik feeling until the following Shabbat. We return to work, school, shopping; that is we return to the life we had so we need that extra reminder to carry us through the week.

At the end of Yom Kippur we also observe Havdalah but, without blessing spices. Is it that we do not want to remember our holy day season? Perhaps we know that the smell of the spices will not trigger enough memory to carry us through until next year's  Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

For me, we omit the blessing over the spices because we hope that the transformation we have committed to with our Teshuvah is so profound, we do not need the aroma of the spices to solidify the change within us.