As the lunar month of Elul is swinging into fullness with the moon, I’m looking forward to seeing the congregation gather for High Holy Days, and also experiencing my habitual longing to be living within walking distance of one another (or at least within easy driving distance.) If we were closer, there would be more opportunities for me to visit with you all outside of the busy schedule of services and simchas (celebrations).
I know we all receive a plethora of e-mail; but I would like to send out occasional “Rabbi’s Notes.” It might be weekly, or monthly, perhaps teachings, or quotations, or my observations on something happening in the Jewish community. I will try to make my notes accessible to people who are familiar with Hebrew and Jewish traditions, and also to those who don’t know Hebrew and are just getting acquainted with the treasures of our heritage.
Today, I would like to let you all know that this coming Shabbat will be “Chai B’Elul,” the 18th day of Elul. This date in the year 1700 was the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the inspired founder of the Chassidic movement, which revitalized life in Eastern Europe for a Jewish community deeply shaken by a false messianic movement in the 1660’s. Though he left behind no written teachings, the Baal Shem Tov’s influence is still profound. This Shabbat is an excellent time to read stories of the Baal Shem’s life and sing niggunim (wordless melodies).
In Hebrew, the number “18” is written using the same letters as the word “life,” as in l’chayim – to life! This date – “Chai B’Elul” – is therefore considered especially auspicious.
My friend Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank, of blessed memory, wrote, “Chai Elul is the day that the pattern of time kicks energy into the Teshuvah work that has been done and that needs to be done, bringing it alive, making its urgency felt, and jolting it into motion, overcoming inertia.”
Teshuvah refers to our efforts to turn around our negative behaviors; something we strive for all year and intensify before High Holy Days.
Happy Birthday, Baal Shem Tov!
Rabbi Naomi Steinberg