When a wicked person does teshuva, he/she opens up the wellspring of his/her soul ([that which had the quality of a dry wasteland and desolation]) and brings down love…that which had been previously parched land [now] transforms into springs of water.
The purpose of Abraham’s travels was to spread his particular quality, that of love-chessed. Abraham brought about by means of his acts, [the land of] Beth El, that loving kindness should be revealed in it. And loving-kindness is called “El” as in “God’s love never ceases.” [Abraham] drew down lovingkindness for [Adonai] by means of his good deeds, opening up the lights of the wellsprings of his soul, thereby also opening up the conduits by which blessing pours out [to Adonai]”
-Paraphrase of Degel Machaneh Efraim, from a discussion of Lech Lecha. Translated by Jonathan Slater, and adapted by Cantor Lauren Adesnik.
Tekia! The shofar sounds brash and rich during this month of Elul. For an entire month, each morning, the shofar blasts in the communities of Israel, signifying the special time of preparation that leads up to the High Holy Days. Imagine waking each morning to the sound of the Shofar. Feel its reverberations in your bones, leading you to look deeply inside yourself and examine your connections with your family, friends, loved ones, community, God, the universe.
This special preparation is called cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting, or checking in with our soul. What does it mean to “check in with your soul?” Why is there an entire month devoted to this practice? What does it mean to do teshuva, and how is that turning and returning connected to loving kindness?
Opening our hearts and exploring the deep innards of our soul can be quite scary. We are asking ourselves to move into a place of the unknown, we don’t know what may or may not come up for us. We are fearful of what we may encounter. We are afraid perhaps, that we may not encounter anything. What if we feel as though we cannot connect to ourselves, or connect to something greater? If we feel disconnected does that mean there is nothing greater, no divine presence or God to connect to? Does this mean we are limited in how we can connect to the world around us?
This journey is treacherous if not undertaken with great care. . The month of Elul gives us that time to slowly open ourselves up, to fully embrace those things in our lives and our hearts that can be the most difficult and painful to face: our notion of a divine presence in this world, faults, guilt, mistakes, those things we have done and that have been done to us that have hurt the most.
Going to those deep dark places would be impossible without chessed, loving-kindness. Making that journey without a sense of love and compassion would leave us blinded, with no sense of direction; clothed in darkness. We go to the dark places so that we can return to the light that is present for us. The journey we embark upon and the gentle loving tending to our souls that we bring to this journey is a practice of Chessed. The gentle care we can offer others this month can open us to feel blessings even amidst the darkest places within us. By offering chessed to others, we become more able to offer that gentle loving kindness to ourselves. This act becomes our Teshuva, our turning through darkness, returning to light.
Spiritual Practice: Opening ourselves to Adonai:
Sit in mindful silence each day and notice any blockages. What keeps you from being open to the flow of blessings of [insert your preferred word here, i.e. God, divine presence, the universe]? When you notice a blockage, breathe into it and probe for how it may get unblocked. Maybe its anger that requires reaching out to the object of your anger. Maybe it’s an old habit (or a new one) that calls for a change of routine. Maybe it’s a wound that needs your compassionate attention. Notice, probe, and then devote some time each day to addressing the blockage.