Do you have also a bunch of unmarked keys at home which you know that the each key must fit somewhere? Perhaps to an old box or door, perhaps to a lock, to your car, a gate, a diary, a neighbour’s house, or to a cupboard. You haven’t had the time to check every key and to mark them, but you know that they are too important to just ignore or even throw over board.
Elul, the current Jewish month, is the month where we traditional occupy ourselves with a spiritual introspection. We are looking for our shortcomings, where we missed the bar we set for ourselves, and where we transgressed the boundaries our Jewish tradition has drawn up for us. We are doing so, in order to make T’shuva; the going back to the point where we erred and to use this new gained knowledge to follow the right direction in the future.
Part of this process, and perhaps the most painful one, is to acknowledge that we have been wrong, to admit our failures – not to others, but to ourselves. To open the door to our soul and to make reality test whether our actions, thoughts and deeds of the past, are really what we hope them to be—or if we have created a myth around them— is not easy and not always pleasant. We all know that…and if we do find the courage to start the process, we are often faced with another question: how? Where do we start? And, how can this become a meaningful journey for us?
Our Jewish liturgy is like the bunch of keys I mentioned in the beginning. Many of the prayers, poems and wisdoms we encounter in our prayer books are keys to our inner selves. The right word hopefully triggers something in us that helps us to understand what we have done and how we perhaps could have done it differently. Once discovered, we can use them again and again to monitor our lives and actions.
Yes, some of the prayers we read are heavy, especially during the High Holy Days. Some seem to be outdated and more than once we are willing to throw them over board. But, please wait before you do so! As much as not every key opens the first door we approach, so too every prayer doesn’t reveal its value immediately. Sometimes, we need to be already on the journey, as some doors already need to be open, and others locked again. In other words, T’shuva does not happen over night, and even the whole month of Elul plus the 10 days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur might be not enough. But, we can start, we can find one prayer, one moment, one word that will lead us in a new direction, at this time. And in a next step, we continue from there.
I am sure that honest, small steps are much more meaningful than a spiritual sprint. And so, I invite you to open your siddur, your high holy day machzor, and to find the one prayer, the one key, you like to start with.
Rabbi Adrian M Schell