Walking in the Fields

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, August 28, 2019

The Hebrew month of Elul begins this year on August 31st-September 1st. Elul marks the beginning of the end of the Jewish Year. During Elul we blow the shofar every day, announcing that Rosh Hashanah is only a month away.

It is said during Elul that “the King is in the Field,” that the presence of God is very close to us, not far away and lifted up high upon a throne. This closeness is meant to inspire teshuva ( “repentance and return”) out of love, not fear; The letters of the word Elul can be read as an acronym for “ani l’dodi v’dodi li” (I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,” a phrase from Song of Songs.

But how in our modern day lives do we find our way back, and prepare ourselves for the upcoming Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe)?

We can think about it this way: If you wanted to go talk to a king, you would need to think about how to get yourself invited to the palace. You would prepare for how to properly enter the throne room, when to bow, where to look. You would carefully rehearse the proper words to say, and make sure to dress in your best clothes. You would engage in these very serious and intricate preparations in hopes of just a few moments of the sovereign’s attention.

But what if the royal presence left the palace to go for a walk in the fields. You could have access to the king simply by going out and joining the royal presence in the fields. You could share what was in your heart, you hopes and fear, your dreams and disappointments.

According to Jewish teaching, Elul is the season when the Divine Presence goes walking in the fields.*

The High Holy Days present themselves to us like the throne room, not like the open fields. They are the most formal, complicated and serious days of our whole year. Certainly, from a liturgical and ritual perspective, and with the support of our religious committee, house committee, tech and av, office staff, musicians, and numerous other volunteers, we devote a great deal of time and preparation to these Days of Awe. We might think that the preparation for these Days of Awe is mostly involved with choreography and liturgy.

But, every year as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I remind myself of Chasidic teaching about the teacher who found his student in great distress – “Where are you running to?” asked the teacher. “I’m rushing to prepare my notes for the High Holiday Machzor before Rosh Hashanah begins,” answered the student. His teacher replied, “The Machzor hasn’t changed since last year, but perhaps you have. Go home and prepare yourself.”

Elul is precisely when God invites us greater accessibility of a very different kind, to immediate
access, intimacy, and connection to the Divine Presence if we take the time to prepare our hearts.

As we move through the month of Elul, take some time to engage in spiritual preparation for the Holy Days:

Imagine what it would be like to join God for a walk in the fields. What would you share about your life? What would you ask for? What questions might you be asked? How would you answer?

Dedicate a period of time to sit quietly and really think about the past year. Think about your relationships, your work, your acts of tzedakah through volunteering and through charitable giving. Consider what you are most proud of and where you missed the mark. Think about how you want to move forward in the coming year – what to keep and what to let go of.

Find a poem or reading that has meaning and inspiration for you. You can bring it with you to High Holiday services to look at it during meditative or reflective moments in the service.

Apologize to those you’ve hurt. The work of teshuvah – of repentance and return, is not easy. Our tradition teaches us that for sins between the individual and God, God forgives, but for sins between one individual and another, we must actively seek forgiveness – and doing that starts with saying, “I am sorry.”

Offer forgiveness– perhaps the only thing harder than saying “I’m sorry” is saying “I forgive you.

It is never too late for personal reflection, meditation and prayer. Go out into the fields, visit the lake at sunrise, take a walk in the woods, contemplate a leaf changing color with the season. Open your hear to allow the essence of this sacred season, the time, prayers, the music, and our Solel community to enter into your heart, mind, and soul.

Wishing you an inspiring, heart-opening beginning to these most holy of days!

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

* Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains this teaching in Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b

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