Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Hiding from Elul

When I realized we were entering the month of Elul, I was overcome with stress. Elul is a month of heightened spirituality, as people work on their Cheshbon Ha’Nefesh, their spiritual account, the assessing of interactions and misdoings with people and with God. Very heavy and daunting. Although one should always be analyzing their behavior, there is a greater emphasis now, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Elul means preparing for the holidays spiritually, and physically, as I need to figure out hosting and menus and…

After a moment of thinking about what Elul entailed I wanted to run downstairs, hide, sleep, do anything to not have to face the stress of preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And then I realized something profound. During this season I have the pleasure of teaching one of the texts we read on Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah. Whenever I tell the story of Jonah, just before he is thrown into the water and consumed by the big fish, someone always yells out, “But you can’t hide from Hashem!” It is obvious to children, or maybe obvious in the Book of Jonah, but it isn’t so obvious to us in our daily lives.

My desire to hide from my physical and spiritual responsibility is exactly what Jonah experiences. Jonah appears both foolhardy and someone who experiences a great miracle, almost a parody of how we think a prophet should behave. But connecting to this today is not so far-fetched. We run and hide from our spiritual responsiblity regularly. Maybe we have run so far from it, we no longer realize it exists. We don’t need to find ourselves inside a fish, or in any other crisis to stop and take stock of what is really important in our lives. Throughout the story, Jonah struggles to ascertain what is important.

The reading of The Book of Jonah  on Yom Kippur is not arbitrary, although slightly unfortunate. The connection of Jonah’s struggles to our own spiritual journey is obvious. The unfortunate part is that by Yom Kippur afternoon, the inspiration from the text often misses its mark. Most people are distracted and hungry. Those who are able to connect to the message would have benefited most from internalizing the message weeks before and using it to prepare for Yom Kippur.

Jonah's struggle is very relatable. Avoidance and denial are useful in small doses, as taking on everything at once can be overwhelming. These help a person cope and work through situations at a more manageable time. But do not avoid indefinitely. You can take a boat ride but do not avoid something until you find yourself in crisis in the belly of a fish! Now is the time to start tackling the challenge.

I love the Book of Jonah. I am excited about Elul and the upcoming holidays.  But I would still like to go downstairs and sleep...

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