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Parashat Shoftim

August 18, 2023
1 Elul 5783

Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9


Dear Friends,


This week we welcome the month of Elul, the final month of the Jewish calendar, as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, which is literally the head of the year. The rituals that surround the month of Elul are all about waking up and preparing ourselves for the year ahead. We do not simply jump into the new year expecting to change our established patterns; rather, we are called to take this time and use it for the purpose of looking inward so that we can go forward into the New Year with a renewed sense of purpose. The process does not demand that we transform ourselves, rather that we look within ourselves and gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and how we relate to others. This process is known in Hebrew as cheshbon hanefesh — literally “an accounting of the soul.”

If one were to go to services every weekday through the month of Elul, we would hear the sound of the shofar -- the sound that functions as a wake-up call to the very core of our being. Some refer to the sound of the shofar as a battle cry, an invitation to charge forward, to take action. For me, the sound of the shofar is the sound of memory along with a call to action. It hearkens to the pain of the past while establishing hope for the future, but only if we take action, first within ourselves and then in reference to those around us.

This time of year gives us an incredible opportunity to forgive ourselves, putting away the negative thoughts with which we castigate ourselves and put ourselves in dark places. Instead, this process is one of compassion, first for ourselves and then for others. When we accept the ways in which we have wronged ourselves and others, we can seek forgiveness. The process is one that allows for brave conversations and the possibility of healing that which is broken.

When we are able to own the ways in which we are hard on ourselves, we have the capacity to change our behavior and our responses to the things that have triggered us in the past. The work that we begin in Elul, is just that a beginning, a start. It is a process, one that takes time, care, and effort. One of the most powerful elements of this process is that many of us are going through a similar process at the same time, allowing us to support one another.

It takes self-awareness, compassion and forgiveness -- the spiritual underpinning of the High Holidays -- to tap into our ability to change our behavior, shift our focus and turn and return the good that lies within each of us.

As we go through this period of self-reflection, and taking account, may we have compassion for ourselves and for others. May we find the courage to forgive both ourselves and others when we and they have missed the mark. May we remember to be kind to ourselves and to others remembering that each of us was created “Bezelem Elohim” -- in the image of the Divine.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784