Elul 13: Compassion ~ His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama


Genuine compassion is irrespective of others’ attitudes toward you.
But, so long as others are also just like myself,
and want happiness,
do not want suffering,
and also have the right to overcome suffering,
on that basis, you develop some kind of sense of concern.

That is genuine compassion.
Now unbiased, even toward your enemy; so long as that enemy is also a human being, or other form of sentient being.

They also have the right to overcome suffering.
So, on that basis, there is your sense of concern.

This is compassion.

The Dalai Lama is the supreme head of Tibetan Buddhism and a Nobel Prize winner.

Elul 2: Next by Rabbi Everett Gendler


Aging: a fearsome word in a youth-obsessed culture. The desired stage of life, youth, is depicted as threatened by the aging process. Granted; youthfulness, with its energy, its hope, its sense of the future, is a desirable quality of life, perhaps essential. But let’s not confine those qualities only to the young in years. Yes, the stages of youth and aging are irreconcilable; one precludes the other. However, the stage of aging and the qualities of youthfulness are quite a different matter. Not only can they co-exist, sometimes they actually do, each enhancing its counterpart. The proportion of past to future, of memory to anticipation does shift with the years. But the richness of experience, accumulated in memory, need not prevent an engagement with the future.

My wife and I defined retirement to mean redirecting energy, not dropping bovine-like onto green pastures, grazing as time scurried rapidly onward. Instead, retirement to us meant being open to unscheduled, unanticipated opportunities for further involvement in the great life experiment. While we looked forward to possible new adventures, we were also worried about losing the connections with the future that our occupations – psychologist, rabbi, teacher, chaplain — had provided. How quickly this concern was answered! By virtue of blessed guidance, or chance, if you insist – in less than half a year we found ourselves engaged with the Tibetan exile community in India. For these past 15 years, we’ve been travelling regularly to India to help the followers of the Dalai Lama develop a community-wide educational program on strategic nonviolent struggle for the Tibetan cause. This Western, pragmatic, how-to-apply-it complement to his idealistic, inspirational advocacy of nonviolence, has been welcomed and facilitated by His Holiness. Aging? Despite increasing intimations of mortality, don’t fear it. Join it. With youthfulness as a companion, it can still be quite a trip!

Rabbi Everett Gendler is a devoted Jewish civil rights activist. He’s been described as the “father of Jewish environmentalism.”

2007 / 5767

2007 / 5767

In this very spot, on each of the 29 days of Elul 5767, we posted a ‘Jewel’ of an inspiration from an amazing group of individuals. From Deepak Chopra to the Dalai Lama and Kirk Douglas to Matisyahu, these wonderful people will share their thoughts on ‘Hope and Healing’.To a sweet, peaceful and inspired New Year.

Elul 29
The Greatest Gift
Joseph Telushkin
Joe Lapchick was one of the great basketball players in the pre-World War II era and played center for the legendary Celtics. When his 7-year-old son was stricken with polio, Lapchick’s neighbors expressed concern for the boy’s health, but the basketball star was shocked when one of them, in the presence of the sick child, asked if the boy would ever be able to play basketball again.The next day, when he visited the hospital, Lapchick asked his son if he wanted to be a basketball player. The boy said yes, and his father told him that all he wanted was for him to have a happy and normal life, and to give something back to society.

The son eventually recovered and suffered no long-term effects from his illness. Years later, however, he still recalled the words his father had spoken to him that day in the hospital. As the son of a great athlete, he had always imagined that he had to follow in his father’s footsteps. His father’s words, which conveyed a love not conditioned on his son replicating his feats, freed the young boy from the complex that he, too, had to be a sports star. “I recognized that my father had given me perhaps his greatest gift on that morning in Grasslands Hospital. He freed me of the need to please him and gave me the opportunity to fulfill myself.”

Joseph Telushkin is a spiritual leader, author and scholar ranked by Talk Magazine as one of the fifty best speakers in the United States. www.josephtelushkin.com

Elul 28
His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
Genuine compassion is irrespective of others’ attitudes toward you.But, so long as others are also just like myself,
and want happiness,
do not want suffering,
and also have the right to overcome suffering,
on that basis, you develop some kind of sense of concern.

That is genuine compassion.
Now unbiased, even toward your enemy; so long as that enemy is also a human being, or other form of sentient being.

They also have the right to overcome suffering.
So, on that basis, there is your sense of concern.

This is compassion.

The Dalai Lama is the supreme head of Tibetan Buddhism and a Nobel Prize winner. Reprinted with permission from Millenia Music. www.musicofcompassion.com

Elul 27
A Divine Parenting Manual
Dr. Ron Nagel
As we enter the Holy Days, I am reminded that our greatest hope for the future rests with our children. As parents, we have an obligation to teach our children. It is through them that we can and will heal this world.Just as we are taught to model the divine qualities of God, so must we try to teach these qualities to our children.

This is what I have learned.

Omniscience: Although parents surely do not know everything, parental responsibility is to offer guidance and experience. To raise a child means to act as a parent, not a best friend.

Omnipresence: Parents should be fully involved in their children’s lives. Sometimes quantity is more important than quality.

Integrity: Parents must be exceptional role models in the way they speak, the way they act, and the way they treat their fellow human beings.

Purity: You are what you eat. Parents should be mindful of the types of foods they serve their families. Lead by example. “Eat to live,” should be the mantra, not “live to eat.”

Creation: Parents should inculcate productivity and creativity in their children. Television and computers should be only supplemental to appreciating and engaging the natural world.

Compassion: Discipline does not have to mean punishment. Discipline is about teaching your child that there are limits in life, and we can enforce those limits positively and compassionately.

Dr. Ron Nagel is the president of the Los Angeles Pediatric Society, the recipient of six Golden Apple Teaching Awards and a practicing pediatrician.

Elul 26
Helping Others
Sarah Lefton
The great thing about the world of the spirit is that gravity doesn’t apply. Inertia can be overcome.Our secular culture teaches us to focus on ourselves when we have problems – whether through healthful things like self-help books and therapy…or through numbing things like comfort food, self-medication and complaining to friends.

A teacher once shared with me a special tool for lifting oneself out of sadness and depression. It is a very Jewish way to lift yourself up, and it isn’t something you might expect to hear from a rabbi.

He said to turn your focus away from yourself and on someone else. Lifting up another person through meaningful, regular volunteer work is a remarkable tikkun, a way to heal the world. It also has the wonderful side effect of healing your own scars. When you feed someone who is hungry, visit someone who is ill, or help a child who badly needs a mentor or tutor, you not only bring healing to our world, but you also create a miraculous new sense of self-worth. Through lifting up others, we lift up ourselves.

Throughout the Torah, our ancestors put others first despite their own difficulties and times of confusion and grief.

May we be like them, moving through our struggles this year by committing to help others. Shanah tova u’metukah.

Sarah Lefton is a creative innovator and the founder of Jewish Fashion Conspiracy and G-dcast.com, a lighthearted cartoon series for teens. www.lefton.net

Elul 25
Let’s Face It
Kirk Douglas
Seeking spirituality doesn’t have to be somber. It can be joyous, and no one needs joy more than young people.I have written “Let’s Face It,” a book dedicated to the younger generations. Let’s face it, the world is a mess, and they will inherit that mess. Horace Mann once said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

As I approach Yom Kippur, I give thanks for all the things in my life that fill me with gratitude. But I have much guilt when I think of the state of the world we are leaving our children. They have a hard job ahead of them, and they’re entitled to all the joy they can find.

My prayers are for my children, grandchildren, and all the young people of the world.

Kirk Douglas is an American actor whose six-decade career has earned him an Honorary Academy Award. He is also a best-selling author.

Elul 24
Leaving a Mark
Debra Applebaum
I received this letter following the murders of my husband, Dr. David Applebaum, and our daughter Naava, in a terrorist bombing the night before her wedding.“It was the summer of 1996 when I found myself in Jerusalem. I fell quite ill, and my roommates convinced me to go to a pre-hospital emergency room. In walked a middle-aged man sporting a beard and kippah and wearing the traditional white medical coat. And like iridescent diamonds on a lonely black night came his words. ‘Applebaum,

said the doctor. ‘That’s my name, and we’re going to take care of you.’The examination began and abruptly ended. ‘It’s a virus,’ he said. ‘Nothing much to do except sit and wait it out.’ The examination had been short. I thanked him and I made my way home.

At 1:00 a.m., there was a knock at the door, and there stood Dr. Applebaum along with a nurse. ‘I don’t mean to disturb you,’ said Dr. Applebaum, ‘but I felt some measure of concern after you left, and I just thought I would pop over after my shift to make sure your condition hadn’t deteriorated.’

‘Popping over’ meant traveling a distance of 40 minutes out of his way. What I remember is the kindness of a soul who had pity on a woman, old enough to be on her own, but young enough to feel alienated, far from home.

There are men like Dr. Applebaum who leave a mark wherever they go, and they touch the lives of all who meet them.”

Debra Applebaum has a Master’s Degree from Case Western and a Master’s Degree in Bible from Haifa University/Matan.

Elul 23
Shooting Stars (to Daniel Pearl)
Judea Pearl
It seems unfair, a waste,
To journey like a shooting star,
One thousand cosmic years through space.
To smile one time, just once,
Emit your brightest light and disappear
In daring curvature to nowhere,
Like that actor on the stage
Who ends the play to no applause,
And bows to empty seats, then glows.
Unfair, a waste,

But a child may chance to stare
And see that daring curvature, remember?
Which may just set this child in motion
Remind him of those cosmic years, of freedom,
And jolt his mind to point up north
Beyond the curtain of prediction,
Dare to shed the bonds of earth
And curve the course of expectation.

Unfair? A waste?

My eyes to shooting stars, to motion.
My heart to one that just passed by,
Softly traveled, bright, secured,
For century after century,
From way before the beginning of time.

Judea Pearl is a UCLA professor and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation named after his son, who was murdered by terrorists in 2002. www.danielpearl.org.

Elul 22
A Healing Chorus
Deborah E. Lipstadt
On Rosh Hashanah in the mid-1960s, my father received a cancer diagnosis. The doctors scheduled radiation treatments, but the initial treatments fell on Sukkot and Simchat Torah when he would normally be attending services at our modern Orthodox synagogue. He asked that he be allowed to come in for treatment during the middle days of the festival. The hospital spokesperson explained that those days were reserved for in-patients. Outpatients generally found it too depressing to see the terrible shape these patients were in. My father, unfazed, said that even if it was too depressing, he would come during the in-patient days. Reluctantly, they agreed.On the first day, he sat in the waiting room surrounded by terribly disfigured, desperately ill people on gurneys. While reading his newspaper, he began to hum. A lady on a gurney nearby said, “That’s pretty. Sing louder.” My father agreed. The lady quietly joined in. Others followed, and soon the room was awash with song.

Shortly thereafter, a nurse emerged and asked my father to come in. He rose, but before leaving, he turned to the other patients and said: “That is a tune composed by Shlomo Carlebach. I knew his family in Germany. He set a verse from the book of Psalms to this music. The words you were singing are Esah ayni el ha-harim. Mayayin yavo ezri. Ezri mayim Ha-Shem, osei shamayim v’aretz. I lift up mine eyes to the hills above. From whence shall my help come? My help shall come from the Lord, the creator of heaven and earth. And so may it be.”

Deborah E. Lipstadt is Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, an author and respected lecturer. www.lipstadt.blogspot.com

Elul 21
An Alliance for a New Humanity
Deepak Chopra
At this moment, nothing is more important for healing the world than to link all those who believe that we must set forth a new narrative and create a new world where hope, social justice, peace, and a sense of the sacredness of life prevail. For this, we need to form a critical mass of humanity that influences change at a global scale, to bring together the inner streams of sensitive human beings.The driving force is an upwelling from the heart rising from within many, unbeknown to all. I am simply amazed at the way this is all
happening, and I feel totally overwhelmed at the heart energies being generated.

We must reconfirm to ourselves the greatest things in life: tenderness, smiles, the love of a mother for a child, the joy of a couple in love, the reflection in the eyes of the elderly, the beauty of a serene moment. These are expressions of the purest aspects of our spirit, reflections of the oneness that we are. We must go back to being truly human, seeking a pause, for conciliation and compassion.

We must come together to be the change we want to see in the world, to make a difference to improve our world, and to share the passion for a new humanity.

Deepak Chopra is an Indian medical doctor and the best-selling author of more than 40 books. www.deepakchopra.com.

Elul 20
A Splendid Torch
Tovah Feldshuh
Bill Gates said recently, “Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity, reducing inequity is the highest human achievement. “We now live in a world of reality television, a world of accountability with instant messages, Skype, Bluetooths and Blackberries. We are always on call. We are enveloped in wars televised by CNN, instantaneous and clear though thousands of miles away.

But what if a camera were on your life? How would you fare? What are you willing to put yourself on the line for to ensure a healthier planet and a safer future for humanity? We have many choices. Our choices stare us in the face and beg for action.

George Bernard Shaw said: “I am of the opinion that our lives belong to the community and that as long as we shall live, it is our privilege to do for it whatever we can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no brief candle to me but a splendid torch that I have hold of for one moment in time, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

Tovah Feldshuh is an actress and committed activist for charitable causes. www.tovahfeldshuh.com

Elul 19
Sacred Things
Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D.
It’s the summer of 1979, and I am in Utah driving Norman, a young Paiute fieldworker to Indian Peaks, a sacred Paiute site.A converted Mormon, Norman says he has given up Paiute superstition. But as the hours pass, he talks of spirits in nearby Fish Lake, ancestors who watch over us, rains that come from proper incantation.

He asks about Judaism, and I tell him of my desert ancestors, discoverers of that oneness of things we call God, and of our own sacred words. I tell him how our numbers, too, like those of the Native Americans, had been diminished by senseless hatred.

We finally arrive and park near a small, hilly rise beyond which a great escarpment looms. “Ah,” I say, looking at the large cliff. “That must be Indian Peaks.” Norman pauses, deciding whether to trust me with a guarded truth. “Yes, to the White Man.” he says. “To the Paiute, that is the sacred mountain,” pointing to the small rise.

As our eyes meet, I suddenly understand. In the desert, the small survive.

And there we stood in silence and hope, two descendants of desert peoples, pondering both the Maker of All Things and the power of the hilly rise, the still small voice, the rare moment of connection. All, sacred things.

Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., is a sociologist in the Departments of Psychiatry, Medical Ethics, and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Elul 18
Past, Present and Future
Yaakov ‘Bones’ Kirschen

As a political cartoonist, I’m obsessed with the past and the future, but the future is hypothetical and the past is…well…the way we remember it. They both exist in our minds.

A ritual that I’ve set for myself is to periodically escape from the familiar and to live in the present. To find satisfaction in what I am, to feel what it’s like to be me.

I’m soon back to thinking about the past, and considering the future. But like any vacation, a quick trip to the present can really recharge your batteries.

Yaakov ‘Bones’ Kirschen is a political cartoonist and commentator for the Jerusalem Post. www.mrdrybones.com

Elul 17
Yoni Cooper
I stand at attention facing the Kotel Hama’aravi, the Western Wall, as the army ensemble begins to play. Only a few weeks ago I enlisted into the Paratroop Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces, and tonight, I stand among hundreds of other new paratrooper recruits for our Hashba’ah, our official induction into the army. We pledge our allegiance to the State of Israel and swear to do anything and everything in our power to defend her.We begin to sing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah (The Hope). I imagine my ancestors singing this anthem in times of helplessness
and powerlessness, hoping for the creation of a Jewish state in the land of Israel.

Od lo avdah tikvateinu, Hatikvah bat shnot alpaim.
We haven’t lost our 2,000-year-old hope.

The words of our anthem speak to me as I stand with my fellow inductees. Tonight, I am part of a Jewish army. Tonight, it is my responsibility to ensure the existence of our Jewish State. Tonight, our dream is alive and my hope is renewed. Together we pledge to make the hope a reality.

Hatikvah: The hope that our children will not hear the words “kassam” and “katyusha.”
Hatikvah: The hope that our enemies will be defeated.
Hatikvah: The hope that I will serve more as a peacekeeper than as a fighter.

Tonight I do not sing our anthem passively. Tonight I become an active participant in our fight. May we never lose Hatikvah:

Lihiyot am chofshi b’artzeinu.
To be a free nation in our land.

Yoni Cooper recently immigrated to Israel and is currently serving in the elite combat unit of the Paratrooper Brigade.

Elul 16
Soul Mate
Neshama Carlebach
My father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, created this parable:Imagine you are on a subway and suddenly realize that your soul mate, the one you’ve been waiting and praying for your entire life, is standing beside you. You’re full of love and disbelief; you can’t speak.

Then your soul mate is leaving, walking off the train. Frozen, you manage, “What’s your number?” You hear only the first three digits. Then the doors close.

At the next stop, you run to a pay phone, frantically trying every combination of numbers imaginable. Failing that, you drive through the streets, crying, searching. Overwrought, you drive dangerously, running red lights. You are arrested for reckless behavior.

Imprisoned, brokenhearted, and alone, you await your trial. You prepare yourself, terrified of the possible judgment.

As you enter the courtroom, you see the judge you have feared is your soul mate, the very person you’ve been seeking and whose absence created the sadness that made you lose your way. You break down. Your soul mate says the words that change your life.

“I know you’ve made mistakes, but let’s not think about that now. Today, I just want to be close to you.”

On Yom Kippur we stand in judgment before G-d. We beg forgiveness for our mistakes. In Elul, G-d comes to us. If we listen closely we will hear His voice, “I know how hard this world can be. I know you long for meaning and sometimes make mistakes. But now, I just want to be close to you.”

When things fall apart, may we be blessed to hear G-d’s voice.

Neshama Carlebach has been putting her own unique soul and spirit into Jewish music since the age of 5. www.neshamacarlebach.com

Elul 15
The Sign
Harriet Rossetto
I was addicted to despair. What’s the point? Why bother? Life is hard, and then you die. In those days I called it existentialism, which cloaked the despair with a veneer of intellectual superiority. I balanced thoughts of suicide with flights of fantasy. The “right” man, the “perfect” guru, the current cause or psychological panacea would give my life meaning, patch the “hole in the soul.” When it didn’t, I wanted to die. At the bottom, I prayed to a God I didn’t believe in. “Show me the way to my mission; what is the purpose of my life?”The “sign” soon appeared in the L.A. Times Classified: ‘…person of Jewish background to work with Jewish criminal offenders.’ The hairs on both arms stood up. Who better than I? I knew I had a choice, coincidence or divine guidance. I chose to believe, to put my faith in divine wisdom, in the miracle of revelation.

God’s gift to me has been staying power and the willingness to plow through my doubts and fears when the giants loom and I feel like
a “grasshopper.” My faith in being God’s partner in healing has
sustained me when I wanted to give up and, for the past 20 years, has empowered me to put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing.

I have found all the things I thought I would never find: a life partner who shares my passion for healing troubled souls, a reason to get out of bed every morning, and the blessing of being witness to the healing power of transformation.

Harriet Rossetto is the founder of Beit T’Shuvah, the first and only residential Jewish addiction rehabilitation program in the United States. www.beittshuvahla.org

Elul 14
Pearls From Our Great Rabbis
Professor Avraham Steinberg
  • There is a biblical obligation on a patient to seek healing from a physician. 
  • The natural search for health and its maintenance is both a meritorious act and a commandment. 
  • The Torah commands us to watch diligently over our bodies and souls. A person is, therefore, obligated to concern himself with his own healing and the healing of his friend and neighbor. 
  • A sick person should not rely on a miracle but should conduct himself like all normal people and consult a physician when ill. 
  • A pious fool who refuses to allow a physician to help him but relies totally on God’s help is like a hungry man who refuses to eat bread and hopes that God will heal him from the illness of hunger. 
  • If a person is idle and does not seek human healing as is natural, he is guilty of shedding his own blood. 
  • A physician heals with Divine license and mandate using his knowledge of medicine, nutrition and regimens of health. Therefore, the patient is obligated to follow the physician’s instructions, no less so than the laws in the Code of Jewish Law. 
  • Although a patient should seek healing from a physician, he should not place his entire faith in physicians. A person should recognize that a physician is only the messenger of the true Healer of the sick and He gave him Divine license to serve as His messenger to heal the sick. A patient should, therefore, cleave to God and pray to Him with all his heart.

Professor Avraham Steinberg, M.D. is a Senior Pediatric Neurologist at Shaare Zedek and an authority on Jewish Medical Ethics. www.szmc.org.il

Elul 13
Never Alone
Elie Wiesel
“Jews, alone, are vulnerable…But Jews must never be alone.”
Elie Wiesel is a Nobel Peace Prize winning novelist, political activist, and Holocaust survivor. www.eliewieselfoundation.org

Elul 12
Limitless Hope
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
People today are broken and depressed. One of three doctors’ visits by a woman in America is for an anti-depressant, and the rate of depression in men is pushing 40 percent. America is riddled with loneliness as the divorce rate hovers at one in two marriages, and more people than ever live alone. All this is curious given that we live in an age, thank G-d, of boundless prosperity. So why are so many people hopeless?Ours is a culture of soulless capitalism that makes human beings into commodities who judge their self-worth by the quantity in their bank accounts rather than the quality of their relationships. Our soulless, capitalist culture whispers to us that money rather than moral virtue is the currency by which we purchase self-esteem. Rather than reaching out to one another in love and compassion, we compete against one another for the largest number of external accoutrements of success.

This cannot continue. We must heal. Depression, unhappiness, and broken relationships should not be an American family heirloom. The month of Elul is a time not only for remission of sin but a reorientation of life. It is a time of limitless hope as we seek to rekindle our relationship with G-d and with all G-d’s children. It is a time when we exchange an attempt to impress the boss and master the office for an opportunity to reconnect with our spouses and inspire our children. Most of all, it is a time when we remember that real human happiness comes from meaning, rather than money, and from purpose, rather than possessions.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of 19 books, and the host of the TLC show ‘Shalom in the Home.’ www.shmuley.com.

Elul 11
Richard M. Joel
Elul inspires me to ruminate on the state of the world. There are many who fear that we have entered the Age of Excuse. While historically we are a people who value, if not cherish, responsibility, how often do we hear, “It’s not my job”; “It’s not my problem”; “It’s not my fault”; “It’s the way I am.” Some have even devised a weltanschauung that describes this modern day attitude. Much has been written of suggesting we are simply genetically determined products, that our DNA makes us who we are and makes us do what we do. After the tragic murders at Virginia Tech, a major news magazine ran a cover headline, “What made him do it?” While we all acknowledge that our genetic matter certainly influences what we are, does it indeed determine how we act, or if we are responsible for our actions?I took comfort in the words of Dr. Dominic Purpura, noted neuro-scientist and Dean Emeritus of Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine: “Genes are not destiny. They tell us where we came from, not what we can become.” We must be better than our excuses; we are humans.

Richard M. Joel is the President of Yeshiva University. www.yu.edu

Elul 10
An Interview with Hope
Alula Tzadik
Who has inspired your life?
My mother. I was taken away from her and put into an orphanage after she gave birth to me when she was 13. They told her that I was dead. She found out that this was not true, and she got the address of the orphanage. It was the first time I remember seeing tears in the eyes of an adult or knowing that an adult could even cry.
Did you then go to live with your mother?
No, they wouldn’t let her take me. They finally gave me to my father because he was Christian, while my mother was Jewish.

When did you leave Ethiopia?
I am not sure. Before I left, I had been in jail for a year for my political beliefs. In jail, you lose your sense of time…of day and night. What I know is that I landed in the United States on May 1, 1991 at 3:20 p.m. at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

How did you come to America?
When I was released from jail, I went to my father’s house. He had left me an envelope. In it were a passport and a ticket. I left right there and then.

Were you able to take anything with you to this country?
What I took was the love and the kisses from my mother, her tears that told me of love.

What do you hope for?
Life. Only life. To live. In whatever circumstances, I want to live. And my hope is endless, like the ocean. Hope is the children. And the children are endless.

Alula Tzadik is an artist and musician living in Los Angeles, where he performs and records regularly.

Elul 9
Focus on Joy
Anita Diamant
As the new year approaches, I resolve to focus on joy. This has been my kavannah every year since September 11th.It isn’t easy for me. I’m good at worrying. I’m good at crossing things off my to-do list. Hey, I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Don’t talk to me about joy; it’s not part of my culture. We Jews have filled libraries with the historical litany of our losses, our pain, our despair. Besides, you get to a certain age as an individual or as a people and joy becomes a tall order.

And yet, the challenge sticks like a burr on my jacket. In yoga, my teacher asks if we’d like to bring an “intention” to the class. An intention is the same thing as a kavannah. It’s a goal, a focus for the day’s practice.

When she makes this invitation, joy comes to mind. I place an intentional smile on my face and try to make joy my kavannah, both on and off the mat.

Joy is not the same as fun. Fun is a product – something to consume. “Did you have fun?” is such a different question from,
“Did you experience joy?”

Nachman of Bratslav, who struggled with depression for much of his life, equated joy with holiness. He did not say that holiness, or doing mitzvot, or being a good Jew would give you joy. He said that joy itself is the throne of holiness. That joy is kadosh.

What a concept.

Anita Diamant is an author and the founding president of Mayyim Hayyim, a community mikveh in Massachusetts. www.mayyimhayyim.org

Elul 8
Teach Them to Swim
Jerome Groopman
On the wall of the pool at my Jewish community center is a line from the Talmud, “A father should teach his child three things: Torah, a trade, and to swim.” For years, I read this as inspiration to improve my stroke. But then I wondered if the Talmud was also imparting a profound message about hope and healing.It is no surprise that the Rabbis would encourage learning Torah to bring us closer to God and mastering a trade to obtain material
sustenance. But why learn to swim?

The Talmud does not say, “be taught to walk” because the ground is our natural habitat. Water is not. In water, there is nothing to hold on to. There is the risk of drowning, so we must learn how to adapt to new, dangerous, and uncertain surroundings.

When we become ill, it is like being thrown into water. Hope and healing are like swimming. To pass through illness, we must change our usual way of functioning and take control of an unnatural environment. At first, we may thrash around, but God has given us the ability to move forward and prevail. This can be taught to our children after we learn it ourselves.

Jerome Groopman is a professor of medicine at Harvard and a best-selling author.

Elul 7
Discover Hope
Rabbi Maurice Lamm
There is an enormous, untouched potential inside every one of us. It is hope. And hope’s incredible power enables us to survive.Hope contains spectacular power, a power that seems as though it captured bits of the bursting energy of creation. Psychologists at major universities are now discovering that hope is potent and that it plays a significant role in a wide variety of human endeavors – in school, on the job, and in the family. Hope also provides immeasurable benefits for our physical health and for all forms of depression.

Hope can make us better prepared for our own promotions. It can make us better able to manage daily stresses and setbacks. It can help us ride out severe personal crises and cope with critical illnesses. It can even enable us to enhance the way we handle our own aging and to be more satisfied with life.

This spiritual quality of our hope can enable us to grow personally, to look with optimism to the future, to broaden our horizons, to dream the dreams that make people great.

But there is a difficult task we must first tackle, and it takes purposeful and mindful thinking: we must materialize hope and give it shape- we must take a sensation and make it into a structure. We need to analyze what hope is capable of doing, extract it from the entanglement of cobwebbed daydreams, raise it up from romantic wishing wells, and then distill it for our own purpose and use it to help humankind.

Rabbi Maurice Lamm holds a chair in Rabbinics at Yeshiva University and is the president of the National Institute for Jewish Hospice. www.nijh.org

Elul 6
Discovering Hidden Joy
Naomi Ragen
I was unpacking my suitcase after a short weekend getaway when I realized I couldn’t find my scarf. A great sense of loss overwhelmed me. I remembered the exquisite colors that had given me so much pleasure every time I looked at my scarf. I remembered its lovely silkiness as it touched my fingers and draped so lightly around my neck.And now, I thought, I would never see or touch it again. How had I not been more careful with it? I mourned. How had I not cherished it more, recognized its worth more while I’d had it? I wondered, too, if its loss was not a punishment for some sin. And then, a thought occurred to me. Slowly, I went through my suitcase again, and there, in a corner, was a plastic bag I’d assumed was empty. When I opened it, I found my scarf. I touched it, filled with joy and gratitude.

Suddenly, I thought of the myriad things, large and small, whose loss I would be quick to feel was a punishment but whose presence I often overlooked as a blessing. I promised myself to never again wait for their loss to feel gratitude for their presence. I promised myself to thank God every hour, every minute for each small blessing.

Naomi Ragen is an American-born author and playwright who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 36 years. www.naomiragen.com

Elul 5
Who Will Be Me?
Rabbi David Wolpe
In a world of conflicting ideals, how do we seek what is essential in ourselves?As the poet Edward Young asked, “Born originals, how comes it to pass that we die copies?” The sustained pressure of poor role models, the insistent artifice of media manipulations (think of game shows where you win only if you guess the answer everyone else gives) and the need to fit in often misshape us.

While the high holidays encourage community and solidarity, while we confess in the plural and pray for the world, each individual is judged and must judge him or herself as an individual. Our abilities, expectations and gifts differ. As one Rabbi eloquently said, “We pray alone together.”

The Kotzker Rebbe asked, “If I spend my life pretending to be someone else, who will be me?” This month of Elul is a time to explore our actions, the visible traces of character in this world. If the path we have made is a betrayal of our soul’s destiny, we are in need of tikkun, of repair. We grow into ourselves so that we return to God as we were made – an end that justifies and completes our beginning.

Rabbi David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California. www.sinaitemple.org

Elul 4
Hope and Healing
Professor Jonathan Halevy
Modern medicine has contributed enormously to the improved health of the modern world: lower infant mortality rates, better prenatal care and prevention of many infectious diseases.Despite these significant contributions that increase our quality of life, it seems that the wider public is neither fully satisfied nor grateful (malpractice litigation is escalating) and is actually looking for “something else” – an alternative to the principles underlying modern medicine’s approach to diagnosis and treatment.

This search expresses itself in the extreme popularity of the non-evidence based “Complementary and Alternative Medicine.” In recent years, more interactions were between patients and alternative medicine practitioners in the United States than between patients and “conventional” doctors. What is the public seeking that is missing in conventional medicine?

The spiritual aspect of medical care is what people are missing – the holistic approach. It is the recognition that mind and body interact
to produce the process by which each patient struggles to cope with a newly diagnosed illness. It is the recognition that this interaction is unique to every individual and that it affects the quality of life in sickness and health and that it is, indeed, a significant determinant of prognosis.

The days of Elul, the month of repentance, offer a special dimension to this complex picture – revitalizing the hopes and faith, which are man’s deep-rooted allies in his striving for wellbeing in times of health and disease.

Professor Jonathan Halevy is the Director-General of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, a gastroenterological and liver specialist. www.szmc.org.il

Elul 3
Fly Away Home
When I was 17, I left home after the first day of school and rode with a friend in his red ’72 Volkswagen bus to Burlington, Vermont.Most of my days were spent hanging out in a park downtown. Every day around sunset I became filled with a sharp emptiness, a rawness. I could feel a hole in my heart that resonated outward so that everything I saw and heard was filled with this void.

One day, as I was sitting on the concrete, I heard a young man in torn-up jeans with long, stringy dreads sing a song, and it changed my life. “One bright morning when my work is over, I’m gonna fly away home. Fly away home to Zion, fly away home.”

Those lyrics rang in my head and soon became the anthem to my journey. I didn’t know why, but I connected with those words on a deep level. As I was hitchhiking around the country with my djembe drum, I was often overtaken by a certain loneliness. I stopped wherever I was and started to play a heartbeat on the drum and proceeded to belt those lyrics from the place inside me that was hurting.

About five years later, as I was becoming religious, I was reading Tehillim. Sure enough, those words were written by King David, the heart of the Jewish people, who often speaks about having a broken heart and connecting to Hashem from that place where you can feel the intensity and rawness of being.

Matisyahu is a highly spiritual reggae singer with a message of unity and hope that resonates with millions of people around the world. www.matisyahuworld.com.

Elul 2
A Favor We Do Ourselves
Rabbi Harold Kushner
One year, my Yom Kippur sermon was on the theme of forgiveness. The next day, a woman came to see me, very upset about the sermon. She told me how, 10 years earlier, her husband had left her for a younger woman and she has had to raise two children by herself for the past 10 years. She asked me angrily, “And you want me to forgive him for what he did to us?”I told her, “Yes, I want you to forgive him. Not to excuse him, not to say that what he did was acceptable, but to forgive him as a way of saying that someone who would do that has no right to live inside your head any more than he has the right to live inside your house. Why are you giving a man like that the power to turn you into a bitter, vengeful woman? He doesn’t deserve that power over you.”

Forgiveness is not a favor we do for the person who offended us. It is a favor we do for ourselves, cleansing our souls of thoughts and memories that lead us to see ourselves as victims and make our lives less enjoyable. When we understand we have little choice as to what other people do but we can always choose how we will respond to what they do, we can let go of those embittering memories and enter the New Year clean and fresh.

Harold Kushner is a prominent American rabbi and the author of many popular theological books.

Elul 1
Learning How to Dance
Jessica Leigh Lebos
My mother-in-law’s mind is full of holes. She spends most of the day in a placid fog, a place where there’s nothing left to do but walk the dog and wonder what’s for dinner. Every time it’s chicken, she rolls her eyes and kvetches, “We had this last night!” No one argues with her anymore.The situation is undeniably tragic. She’s only in her early 60’s, has already suffered through cancer and a mastectomy, and her dementia has been diagnosed incurable. Yet, her disease has set into motion a certain regeneration: Both of her sons have returned to Savannah to help care for her and to assume their roles as men alongside their father, who is finally learning to treat them like the mensches she raised. Her grandchildren — my kids — sit beside her and sing with gusto while she plunks out the same damn Disney song on the piano: “The Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the appleseed…”

Whenever there’s music, she remembers exactly what to do. She snaps, she swings her arms; she’s particularly fond of jazz hands. This is endearing when “Funkytown” comes on the radio and she shimmies around the living room, less so when we’re in line at the grocery store and she sashays off in the direction of someone’s cell phone. My husband and I have made a family pact to never let her dance alone. Often we resemble a circus without a tent, a multi-generational band of spastic merrymakers getting down to the sound of the garbage compactor. Helping someone keep her grace doesn’t always look graceful.

We hold faith that God loves us so, and yet still, still, life hurts. Sometimes healing comes from accepting what is. Hope is learning how to dance with it.

Jessica Leigh Lebos is a Jewish wife, mother, writer, editor, dancer, Sunday school teacher and sidewalk social scientist. She blogs at www.yoyenta.com