A Liberatory Elul Journey

August 31, 2022Yolanda Savage-Narva

The month before the High HolidaysHigh Holidaysיָמִים נוֹרָאִיםRosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur , ElulElulאֱלוּלThe Hebrew month preceding Rosh HaShanah during which one engages in self-reflection and evaluation in preparation for the High Holidays. Traditionally, the shofar is blown each day during the month. , is a time of spiritual preparation and t'shuvahT'shuvahתְּשׁוּבָה"Return;" The concept of repentance and new beginnings, which is a continuous theme throughout the High Holidays. . This year, as we conclude a ShmitaShmita שְׁמִטָּהA year of “release,” described in the Torah (Ex 23:11; Lev 25:2,5-7; Deut 15:1-2) as occurring every seventh year, during which the land of Israel is not farmed, debts are remitted, and slaves granted freedom. , or sabbatical year, after focusing on taking time to pause, rest and reflect, I feel a sense of urgency and the need to act. As we move into 5783, I am committed to creating a strong foundation of support to reach my goals of connecting with the spirit of our collective humanity and continuing to tap into the inner work needed to build stamina and resiliency. Every day, I hope to move toward the goals of addressing inequities and dismantling systems of oppression.

As I embark on my own spiritual preparation for the new year, I am also committed to being a vessel for others on their journeys. I would like to share the framing I am using to spark a fire inside of myself and recommit to what it takes to create communities of belonging.

In the past year, as part of a spiritual fellowship for social justice leaders, I've explored different ways we can connect with God. In particular, I am inspired by Rabbi Toba Spitzer's exploration of God's power as metaphor in her book, God is Here: Reimaging the Divine, and by Rabbi David Jaffe's Changing the World from the Inside Out, which helped me harness the power of middotMiddahמִדָּהcharacteristics, values, or virtues of Jewish life that focus on becoming a better and more fulfilled person; plural: middot for learning and growth. Finally, I've added my own insights and interpretations that are rooted in the power of ancestors and the hopes of descendants.

Below, I offer a meditation for each day of the 29 days of Elul. These can be used as journaling prompts, messages to read daily, in conversation with a trusted friend, in conversation with God, or in other ways you develop for yourself.

God's Power through Metaphors

1. ROCK of My Strength. What do I need to reach my full potential?

2. TREES are powerful, resilient, and beautiful. What kind of tree am I or do I strive to be?

3. The FIRE that burns in me is raging for justice. What fire burns in you and why?

4. SUN warms our bodies. How do we work to make sure our vessel is sacred and healthy?

5. LIGHT warms our souls. What is your guiding light?

6. The MOON has many phases. What are your intersecting identities? Where have they taken you?

7. The changing TIDES wash away our missteps. What missteps do you want to clear up?

8. AIR is our lifeline. How can you be a lifeline for others?

9. WATER is another lifeline, with its calm and temperamental nature. How do you fill your well of liberation?

10. FOOD nourishes the body and soul. What fuels your journey?

11. WIND pushes us to be better. What seeds of redemption do you want to plant?

12. FLOWERS are the artist's color palette. What makes your world beautiful and colorful?

13. DARKNESS shapes our souls. What shape do you want your soul to take in the coming year?

14. SKY allows us to think and dream about what can be. In your wildest dreams, what is this new year going to bring to you? To others?

15. EARTH gives us a place to grow and evolve. What is one area of growth for you in the coming year?

16. SOUND can be comforting or disrupting. What steps should you take to listen more this coming year?

God's Power through Middah/Middot (Mussar tradition~Soul Traits, our Deepest Values)

17. LOVE will prevail. How do we love ourselves more in this new year? Others?

18. DIGNITY for us is the greatest gift and dignity for others is the greatest opportunity. How do we tap into both in the coming year?

19. HOLY BOLDNESS will push us when we think we can go no further. What is our sacred duty to preserve humanity?

20. COMMUNITY will put its loving arms around us for support. What is your role in humanity's collective story?

21. TRUTH will guide us on the path to righteousness. How do we face the truth and learn from it?

22. PATIENCE will keep us on the path. How do we practice patience and respond with urgency at the same time?

23. FAITH will make sure we know that staying on the path is worth it. What do you need to stick with the journey?

24. When we encounter PAIN, we can turn it into power. What is your story?

25. We want JUSTICE now! What can you do to pursue justice in the coming year?

26. We want JOY! How can you cultivate joy (or what was the most joyful moment of the past year?)

27. We want LIBERATION for all! How can you help those who are oppressed?

God's Power through the Spirit of Ancestors and Descendants

28. ANCESTORS guide the path and give us strength. What kind of ancestor do you want to be?

29. DESCENDANTS are our legacy. What will you do today for the souls to come?

Related Posts

You’re Invited to Remember

Growing up, I saw Yizkor as a mysterious event on Yom Kippur afternoon. The grownups would return to temple in the afternoon, while my sister and I stayed home. There was no explanation, just an understanding that this was a thing our parents and grandparents did, and we did not.

Judgment Days

Some label Rosh HaShanah and the period between the New Year and Yom Kippur as "Judgment Days," a time during which the trajectory of our lives for the coming year is reached.

Simple Ways to Make Yom Kippur Meaningful at Home with Young Children

As the high holidays approach, we are reminded that there are so many meaningful Jewish moments to celebrate. Within the joy and ruach (spirit) of holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah, lies the solemn and serious Yom Kippur. There are a myriad of ways to make Yom Kippur meaningful for young children, for whom especially, Yom Kippur is not an easy holiday to understand.