“The King is in the Field,” is a teaching of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Hasidism. He likened Rosh Hashanah to a time when the king is in the palace and it is very formal act to approach the throne.. But when the king is traveling to the palace anyone can approach him as he travels through the fields.
The Rebbe used this parable to explain that during this month of Elul prior to the New Year, it is easier to access our connection to the divine. That doesn’t mean that you literally have to go out to a field. It’s in your heart. But at a recent Shabbat morning meditation, PCS member Peter Schaffer shared a teaching of a contemporary Torah teacher, Gavriel Strauss, who encouraged that at this time of year we literally go out in nature, to a real meadow or field, as a wonderful way to feel that spiritual closeness.
I have found that advice very helpful during the month of Elul. Hearing the crickets and cicadas, seeing the drying flowers and hints of fall foliage, feeling the texture of the air at late summer, all these connect me to the change of season and the Divine Presence that pervades all things. May I suggest that you take some time in these waning days of Elul to go outside and seek your inspiration for the new year? If you don't manage to do so before Rosh Hashanah, I will be leading an Erev Shabbat walk at Rockefeller State Park Preserve at 6pm on the Friday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and would love to have you join me then.
Other customs of this month include hearing the Shofar, saying Psalm 27, giving additional tzedakah, reaching out to friends and family (as well as those with whom we need to make amends), sending Rosh Hashanah greetings (I love the old fashioned cards!), recalling departed loved ones (visiting their graves if possible), and doing our Heshbon Hanefesh (taking stock of our souls and lives)
In addition, I have made that effort to be outside, in the field, for spiritual connection. Of course, I find being outside a spiritual experience at any time of year, but in Elul I try to give it extra Kavannah (focus, intention). This morning, for example, I was at a Labyrinth walk for clergy led by Rabbi Pam Wax of Westchester Jewish Community Services. I also went on a photo walk earlier this month and did a series of photos, titled "The King is in the Field," which I posted @wellsprings on Instagram, and one at the heading of this post. (You can now also find them in a gallery on my website.)
Another idea for Rosh Hashanah preparation: Sign up for "Do You 10Q?" and you will get an email a day over the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with a question about your life. Then the answers are sealed away and emailed back to you next year just before Rosh Hashanah. A lot of PCS members do this and find it very meaningful and a great way to get perspective on life.
And here is a bonus High Holiday tip: if you are a coffee drinker, start to dilute your caffeine with decaf until you are gradually weaned off caffeine before Yom Kippur. This can help to make your Yom Kippur fast much easier because you won't be dealing with caffeine withdrawal!
Whatever you can do to prepare for the Days of Awe ahead will make Rosh Hashanah more meaningful for you...and for our entire community. Shanah Tovah!
August 30, 2018
Two Truths in Our Pocket
Did you take a trip this summer to a location that awed and wowed you? That feeling of standing before a wonder of nature like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, or Yosemite Falls can evoke two different feelings simultaneously and powerfully. We sense at once both how small we are and how incredibly blessed to be part of the greater whole.
That is the kind of feeling that our Days of Awe were intended to awaken within us, and that is the source of my theme for these upcoming holidays. Each year on the High Holy Days, I seek an over-arching theme to help organize my sermons, remarks, and even some of the songs led by Cantor Abbe Lyons.
This year, 5779, I will focus on two favorite sayings of Rabbi Simcha Bunem, an 18th-century Hassidic teacher. It is said that Reb Simcha carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one was inscribed, "For my sake the world was created." On the other he wrote, "I am but dust and ashes." He would take out and read each slip of paper as necessary for the moment. My friend Rabbi David Zaslow who, with his wife Debra, was our guest at PCS this spring, commissioned a company to make wooden coins with one of these sayings on each side, and they will be available for you to take on the holidays as a reminder to contemplate the messages of this season.
I think that the two sayings on this coin mesh perfectly with the themes of Rosh Hashanah (the creation of the world and celebration of our lives) and Yom Kippur (the reminder and enactment of our mortality). By holding the two sayings in tension, we can appreciate our lives even more deeply, while experiencing a sense of humility and humanity that opens us to others. (On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we will have a short Torah study/discussion on where the two sayings come from.)
I have been pondering these two sayings for a long time, and they are often evoked for me in nature. Here are a couple of posts that I wrote on my Wellsprings of Wisdom website that I hope you will enjoy:
I would love to learn what personal experiences these sayings mean to you, and look forward to exploring with you in the upcoming season.
Wishing everyone L’shanah Tovah Tikateyvu ve-Techateymu! May you be inscribed and sealed for a Good and Sweet New Year!
Rabbi Julie and Avraham Danan