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#BlogElul – Elul 4

Elul 4 – Choose

This year, I’m making choices. For years I’ve said, “I don’t have enough time for that” and “I don’t have enough time for this.” I read something this month however that said, “I don’t have enough time” is synonymous with “This is not a priority for me.” That is a very different way of looking at the universe.

“I don’t have enough time to contact my friends” sounds believable, and almost valid as an excuse. “These people are not a priority for me” – that’s different. “I don’t have enough time to go hiking or canoeing or camping or enjoy any physical activity at all” – that’s just a bit sad. Poor thing. She doesn’t have enough time. If only time had been nicer to her. “Hiking, canoeing and camping aren’t priorities for me” however, sounds horrifying. Of course they’re priorities! What? What kind of life am I building here?

Every day, I have the same 24 hours. What will I fill it with? How much time am I losing to activities I didn’t choose, activities I “fell into” because of lack of time? It’s a bit scary to think that every little thing I do – from taking a drink of water to typing this very line is a choice of how I spend my time – a choice of what my priority is. And Judaism tells me I should think hard and deliberately about that choice. Judaism is big on acting with intention. There’s a whole word Kavana for acting and praying and doing whatever you do with intention.  We are supposed to put all of ourselves into what we do, not simply skim the surface.

Sometimes, I need a rest! A break! And here too I have choices. I can pick breaks that meet my priorities or breaks that don’t, that waste some of those 24 hours. It’s easy to go on default – heck, not going with the flow, not going on default – that takes brain power and focus. (For most of us, walking along to the musac in shopping malls is automatic, it’s breaking that pattern that’s the challenge – for me, well, let’s just say that thing doesn’t work for me when it comes to music. When it comes to activities, however…) I get tired of that too and so I fall into patterns in which I’m doing things that are easy rather than things that are important or fun.

So, this year, I want to push slowly but firmly to change those patterns. I want to create new patterns in which, when I look at what I’m doing at any given time, I can say “this is a priority; this is exactly how I want to be spending my time.” That way, when I say “I don’t have time for this” I’ll be able to add “because it’s not a priority” without flinching. That way, I know I’ve made the choice and not whatever random dude picked the musac playing at that shopping mall.

#BlogElul – Elul 1

Elul 1 – Decide

(Proverbs 24:25-24:26) But to them that decide justly, life shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them. God kisses the lips that give a right answer.

What’s the first step to getting a new dress? A new car? A new life? No, not research. No, not pricing or budgeting. The first step is a decision. My old dress isn’t working. I need a new one. The changes themselves can be as small as going for a 5 minute walk or as big as moving to another country – the point is that once a decision has been made – everything is different.

The car stops being the family car and starts being “that old car, the one we’re about to get rid of.” People start looking at cars on the street to see if one of them will work. The budget is examined and the cost of a new car is factored in. Little by little, the decision is played out until it becomes actual.

So, God approves of decisions that are just, that are right – especially when it comes to our lives. The right decisions even feel different – they make one feel empowered and stronger instead of uncertain or confused. And Elul is an opportunity to decide.

What will I choose today? What kind of person do I want to be? That’s a question that looks like it has no answer – but clearly it does, since if I state the right answer, I’ll get a kiss – God’s touch, strength, joy – all that. (I love that image – God’s kiss on the lips. I know it’s metaphorical, but it’s so beautiful.) For me, Elul is again a chance to try to bring myself closer to what God wants me to be. My correct choice has to be to follow God’s will as much as possible.

I have been making little decisions for myself this month – decisions that look forward, decisions that involve my health – and they’ve been making me happier and they’ve been making me healthier and I think they’re the right ones. Because while the decisions have been a challenge to make – acting on them has been pretty easy. And for someone who’s always struggled with willpower and commitment, that feels a lot like God’s kiss.

Now, it’s Elul, and I am scared. I’m scared that I won’t remember the decision I made, the path I’m on. I’ve forgotten so many times before. Heck, if I had a pencil for every time I’ve restarted, I’d be able to supply every one of the many forgetful students I teach, and that’s a lot of pencils. I don’t want to be just making this decision again next Elul. I want to have moved further – I want to be making new decisions based on the foundations of this year’s. Maybe – I want to be able to build a temple.

Not a third temple in Israel, but a temple of my life, a beautiful sacred life that has strong decisions supported by strong actions. And Tisha B’Av is the time I remember that temples fall, and they need to be cleaned up – but then comes Elul and life temples – they need to be rebuilt. Now, that’s a process that takes time, one that requires cooperation and trust and new ways of looking in the world. Imagine what it would take to build a temple in Israel, without annoying the neighbours? Building a life temple has way less challenges, and they’re on a much smaller scale – but they are there! So, rebuilding is scary, especially knowing that some time during this year, before Tisha B’Av, some of what I build will be knocked down. This decision is a scary one.

All I can do today however, is make my decision, hope it’s the right one, and if it comes – appreciate God’s kiss.

Elul 4 – Choose

Bible story time:

“I suppose it was a choice when he came for me. I suppose I could have said ‘no’. He was offering light work and enough to eat, comfortable housing and better situations, not just for me, but for my family. He was threatening to make our lives miserable if I said ‘no’. Still, I had a choice and I could have said ‘no’. I didn’t. I chose peace and wealth and comfort and life and said yes, and went to live with him. After, they said he killed my husband or committed adultery with me. After, they said he was the very man Moses killed. Mostly, though, this was the choice I made. I did what I could with it. I was a voice for care and restraint in the Egyptian’s house, and many a slave lived because of a word I said here or there. Was it the wrong choice? You can judge all you want. You weren’t there, you weren’t young, you weren’t threatened. I was, and I made the choice.

I made other choices too. I chose to keep my baby, to raise him as an Egyptian noble, to give him the best life had to offer. He was my gift, my compensation. I called him Matani, because he was my gift. I didn’t send him away to live in the fields with grandparents. It wasn’t safe for him in the fields – sometimes, Jewish boys got killed and I wanted my son to live. So, I raised him to fit with his community, to know what he needed to be a good Egyptian boy and man. I did teach him the law of God – of course I did – but it was secret and quiet and whispered, and what boy listens closely to the whispered instructions of his mother? I made a choice to have him be alive, and happy and taken care of. How could that have been the wrong choice? It was the same one Joheved made for Moses and you don’t condemn her.

I could have stayed in Egypt, I suppose. Again, though, I wanted life for my son, and being an Egyptian first born was unhealthy at the time. I fled the plagues with my son to my parents’ home. I tried to fit back in. I tried to help my son fit in. We worked hard to be part of the community. Matani joined the other young men of our tribe and family, and we did what we could to be part of the family of Dibri.

It wasn’t easy – our family isn’t the Dibri (chatty) family for nothing. All of us like to talk, and Matani had a hard time with finding the right things to say. When he expressed dismay or confusion around elements of his new life, it just led to anger on the part of the others. I used my ability to talk to negotiate, to make agreements between people, to build peace (it’s my name after all). I became an accepted community member, and even had enough of a role that my name was known – and not many women’s names were.

Not Matani, though. His tongue caused nothing but trouble. There were many disagreements, many fights. Even then, you say, I had choices. I could have told him to lay low and to be quiet, to wait it out and hold his peace.  I tried – but you are probably right, there’s probably more I could have said. I am certain you were the perfect parent with your children.

I was determined that we would make it, mind you. After Sinai, Matani fought less and listened more. He joined in to the family activities and he even met someone and married. I was so happy when I heard that I had a grandson!   Surely those choices – the ones filled with tears and anguish, the ones where there really was no good way to turn – surely they were behind me now.

It was not to be. The people of Dan, the whole of the children of Israel couldn’t handle one small part-Jewish family settling in their midst. All of a sudden, everywhere they tried to be it was “you can’t live here, you aren’t one of us, go away.” Even Moses ruled against Matani. Matani so wanted a decent life for himself and his son – why couldn’t they just have let him have that? I started careful, quiet negotiations to fix the situation – but Matani was impetuous and his anger just kept growing. Well, you know what happened next. Matani got into one fight too many and said one thing too many. He cursed God in anger and he was arrested and stoned on God’s orders.

If God wanted me to pay for my poor choices, I could understand. But they were mine! Not Matani’s. Not his wife’s. Not my little grandson’s. I spent my life trying to keep him alive – to keep him safe; and it was to no avail. It makes me want to scream at God – then they can stone me, and I’ll be with my son, instead of in this lonely harsh desert with these lonely harsh people and this lonely harsh faith.

I refuse to give up, though. I have a grandson, young Kolel, and I intend for him to have the safety and success I couldn’t give his father. Kolel’s mother has nowhere to go – she too is someone who people don’t accept because of family – many came from Egypt when we left and not all of those were born to a tribe.

You will probably find it ironic that she and Kolel have been offered a tent among the tents of Dan. The shamefaced person who told us so can keep his apologetic mumblings. I do know how to negotiate and at this point, I will use that guilt, I will use anything I can to build the life for Kolel that his father could not have. I will teach him to negotiate, to speak softly and persuasively, and I will teach his mother, too, and together, we will carve out a niche for ourselves in this tribe, in this family. I am Shelomit, daughter of Dibri in the tribe of Dan, and neither I, nor my family, will be forgotten, abused, neglected. We will even make God accept us. That is my choice, as it has always been. I choose life.

Elul 7

Elul 7

#BlogElul – Choose

Ah, choices. I love the idea of choices. You know, when God gave everyone free will, and so we decide what happens in our lives and everything that occurs is entirely up to us? We have the choice to never open Pandora’s box – just don’t open it, that’s all. We have the choice to be with certain people or not be with them, to engage in fun activities or not, to foresee and avoid foreseeable problems, to be who and what we want to be and have happy, fulfilled lives. Right? And that’s what all of us do, right? We always make good choices, they work out well and life is definitely just one box of chocolates.

Well, OK, choices are limited by little things like reality and circumstances. Many people’s lives have huge limits, ones in which there are few choices, and those that are all seem awful. There are people who have never even seen a box of chocolates never mind live in one. This is a rough aspect of the world, one which stinks and makes one scream at God. Some set of choices You’ve given these people, huh?

You and I, however, we have choices. And you, you make the good ones. You picked the nice people whom you love to spend your life with, and you’ve picked a rewarding and interesting career. If it’s a matter of spending that bit of money or not, and your budget says not, you don’t spend it. You eat healthy and nutritious food, not the junk they sell at the end of the grocery aisle. You get your work done before you do any playing, keep your bed made, exercise (you’re probably training for a marathon) and floss daily. I’m pretty impressed by you.

I, on the other hand, stink when it comes to choices. Whatever you do, don’t give me something with a clear good choice and bad one, because that room is going to be opened, those limits are going to be broken, and as for those self made goals? Yeah, those ones. Sigh. I dunno. Every year, I declare that this is the year that habit and compulsion will have no hold on me, that I will make choices that facilitate my future and help me become a better person. Often, I actually put down the handful of junk food I’m holding at that time when I say this. My ability to stick to the plan, unfortunately, seems so strained by habit and compulsion as to be almost nonexistent. Far too often, I make crazy and silly ones instead, ones I wonder about after they happen. I know that I’m not unique. Others seem to also have a hard time choosing the right next thing. We pray to God, and that helps, we make lists and promises, use schedules and points systems, write out things and set timers, and that helps – but sometimes, we just fall back into patterns of non-functional behaviour.

Bad ideas seem so much easier to act out than the good ones! The sweetened cereal is tasty and easy to pour, the angry smash of fist on table is satisfying and instinctive, the computer game is colourful and filled with little tokens and awards.  God makes the bad choices so much more attractive than the good ones. God probably finds this funny.

So, I might as well find it funny too. If I find myself in circumstances I didn’t expect due to choices I probably shouldn’t have made, I can laugh about that and get on with the next choice. After all, my choices have led me here and here isn’t so bad. Maybe I wasn’t planning on these people, this career, or anything I ended up with. Maybe if I had made different choices I would have ended up somewhere else. Who says it would have been somewhere better, though? I seem to have some amazingly good things in my life. If I keep making bad choices, God keeps turning them into good ones. As Maria says in Sound of Music, “somewhere in my youth or miserable childhood, I must have done something good.”

I’ll keep making choices, then, good and bad, and keep enjoying the outcomes God brings from them, keep fighting the poor decisions in favour of the good ones (eventually, I’m sure I’ll get better), and see where I end up with next year. I’ll try to enjoy the result and be proud of it. People will tell me that my choices got me there, and then, I’ll start laughing uncontrollably, and they’ll wonder, “what brought that on?” I’ll just smile. Ah, choices.

Omer – Day 24

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom esrim ve arba laOmer shehem shlosha shavuot ve shlosha yammim laOmer.

Today is day twenty four  of the Omer, which is three weeks and three days of the Omer.

Tiferet be netzakh – beauty within victory; grace within conquest.

There’s two types of victory – over others and over oneself. And I must say, winning over oneself is beautiful. (I enjoy winning over others too – and hate it when I lose. Congrats to all of you who have time for walking this week and so routinely beat my step-count – but oooh, you make me crazy (-: ! Back to positive writing.) There’s a lot of satisfaction to having accomplished something and knowing I did a good job. I don’t always have control over my bad habits, but every time I resist a temptation, every time I choose to do the right thing, I get the reward of feeling good about myself and that is pretty beautiful. Now, the trick is to remember that in the moment, instead of in hindsight…

Today, I will remind myself of how good it will feel and look to make the right choices.

Omer – Day 2

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom sheni laOmer.

Today is day 2 of the Omer.

Gevura be Khesed – Strength within kindness; might within love

Today, I acknowledge that being kind is something that occasionally takes strength. It’s making the quiet unappreciated choice to spend an extra few minutes helping someone even if there are many, many other things you’d rather be doing, even if there is laughter in the next room. I express gratitude that I have been blessed with people in my life who make that choice again and again. There is so much kindness in the little things people do for me that I am constantly amazed and gladdened by it. I know they work hard to accomplish it. Today, I strive to be strong and when the choice to be kind comes up, to make it even if I would rather do something more fun.