The month of Elul - the month leading up to the Days of Awe- has always been important to me. I enjoy preparation in general and the getting ready aspect of Elul really appeals to me. Some say that the Hebrew letters that comprise the word Elul – aleph, lamed, vav, lamed – are an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” a verse from Song of Songs that means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Most often interpreted as love poetry between two people (and often seen on wedding invitations - including mine), the phrase also reflects the love between God and the Jewish people. This feels particularly important during this season, as we take stock and examine our actions and behaviors during the past year and hope for blessings in the coming year.
This past Shabbat, I had the best of intentions to attend Shabbat morning services as I often do throughout the year. However, on this Saturday morning, the late July weather we were experiencing was nothing like the past hot and humid week and I awoke to a crisp, humid-less day - just perfect for biking, one of my passions.
As I readied myself for my bike ride, a nagging sense of (Jewish) guilt came over me. I should really be going to shul I said to myself - however, knowing this kind of biking weather in late July rarely appears, I continued my preparation and began thinking about what I could do to experience both things - the meaning I would gain from being in shul with my community and the joy I would experience being out in nature, on my bike and alone with my thoughts and with God. I began to think about what Reb Nachman of Breslov might have to say about this and promised myself I would review some of his writings.
It turns out I experienced probably the best bike ride I have had all season and I do believe my intentionality, my sense of wonder, reflection and delight in what I was experiencing all around me - the bright sun, the growing corn in the farms in Beltsville, the birds and deer I saw in the Patuxent Wildlife Preserve and all the verdant trees and flowering shrubs along my route made me feel more connected, to myself, to the natural world and to God.
It turns out Reb Nachman had quite a bit to say about praying in nature. One of his prayers states, “Grant me the ability to be alone; may it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grass - among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer, to talk with the One to whom I belong. May I express there everything in my heart, and may all the foliage of the field - all grasses, trees, and plants - awake at my coming, to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer so that my prayer and speech are made whole through the life and spirit of all growing things, which are made as one by their transcendent Source.”
While I am not advocating to only pray in nature and never join in our communal prayer opportunities - I am inviting you to find unique and meaningful ways to spiritually prepare and ready yourself for the Days of Awe and throughout the year. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
Wishing the entire Mishkan Torah family and potential members meaning leading up to the High Holidays 5782. May you and yours be blessed with good health, peace and spiritual amazement!