August 18, 2023
Chodesh tov! (A good new month!) The new month of Elul begins today, which means we are exactly one month from the beginning of the new year of 5784. A new month which brings us to a new year is a rich opportunity for contemplation, reflection, the excitement and perhaps the trepidation of the possibility of renewal. One of the customs associated with the month of Elul, to help focus our souls on the sacred work of the season, is hearing the sound of the shofar each day. Another is the daily recitation of Psalm 27. The deep, startling cry of the Shofar is intended as a “spiritual alarm clock” to call us awake to what needs attention within us. What needs to heal, to change, to grow, to be let go, to be discovered? If the shofar is meant to sharpen our focus on who we have been and who we need to be, what is the call of Psalm 27?
The custom of reciting Psalm 27 during Elul allows us to access a broad range of emotion, including the experience of deep loneliness and fear, as well as hope and security. The psalmist describes feeling confident in God’s protection, but also fearful of losing that sense of safety – anxiety about being abandoned. It is difficult work to be honest with ourselves. We spend a lot of time trying to avoid and distract ourselves from the ways we need to grow and change in order to bring our soul’s gifts to this world, but Elul asks of us that we go against our self-protective instincts and open ourselves to difficult truths. When we do this, we may feel that we’ve lost our footing, when in fact we have gained it. To encounter our authentic selves enables us to be grounded and centered. We need to cultivate that encounter not only for ourselves, but in service of our relationships and the world in which we live. Each of us is created in the image of the divine. Each of us represents a piece of the magnificent, infinite tapestry that is God, the Oneness undergirding and transcending and connecting all of creation. In this season, we need to come home to ourselves, and in coming home to ourselves, honoring the wise self within, we encounter the fullness of the divine. We must not be afraid of honesty and authenticity about who we are and who we must be, and the work of this season requires strength, courage, and trust that we are held by something greater than ourselves; something that transcends and connects us all.
This month we must turn with both honesty and compassion toward our own souls, and when we do that, God, the ultimate source and force of truth and compassion, will turn toward us. With honesty and compassion, we come to “Dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 27:4). The following interpretive translation of Psalm 27 by Rabbi Yael Levy beautifully illuminates for me the meaning of the psalm, and the demand of this season. I hope this will help you to hear these words in the coming month, as they guide us toward renewal and wholeness (I have highlighted the lines that I find most resonant).
Psalm 27 – Meditation for Elul
Translation by Rabbi Yael Levy
To the Beloved,
The Infinite Presence is my light and expanse, whom should I fear?
The Infinite Presence is the strength of my life, what shall I dread?
When forces come close
Seeming to devour me,
When narrowness threatens,
And opposition attacks,
All that is menacing stumbles and falls.
Even as an army of mistrust besieges me
My heart does not fear.
Even as thoughts and desires rise up against me
I still have trust.
One thing I ask of the Infinite,
One thing I seek,
To dwell in the Presence all the days of my life.
To awaken to the beauty of each moment
as I pass through this world.
The Infinite shelters me as I encounter difficulty and pain.
The Infinite holds me close in deep and hidden places.
And lifts me high upon a rock.
Now I can see through to what is true.
And I will offer my gifts of thanks
And I will sing and make music to the Eternal.
Please, Infinite One, Listen to my voice, hear my call.
Be gracious with me.
You call to my heart, “Seek my presence”
Your presence I seek.
Please don’t hide from me.
Please don’t let me turn away in anger.
I long to serve.
You are my help.
Do not let me feel abandoned. Do not let me turn away.
In You I am safe.
For my mother and father have left me
And it is you who gathers me in.
Teach me Your ways. Guide me on the path of integrity.
There is so much to lead me astray.
Don’t let me give in to all that torments me,
the lies, the illusions, the menacing threats.
I must have faith that I can see through all of this
I can see the good, the blessings, the ways of life.
Cultivate hope in the Infinite Presence.
Let your heart be strong and filled with courage.
I am looking forward to joining together in our spiritual home over the High Holy Days, each of us having come home to ourselves with honesty and compassion during the month of Elul.
Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman