Unifying my life as I trim my garden

As I wrote the oth­er day, while I pre­pare dur­ing the month of Elul for Rosh haShan­nah, I think about what is periph­er­al to my life, and what I should toss.

Aside from blow­ing sho­far each day dur­ing Elul, anoth­er prac­tice has tak­en on the nature of a dai­ly rit­u­al: the read­ing of Psalm 27.

Psalm 27

Psalm 27

Accord­ing to Rab­bi Ben­jamin J. Segal pres­i­dent of Melitz, the Cen­ter for Zion­ist Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion, Jerusalem, “This prac­tice is rel­a­tive­ly new, evi­dent­ly some 200 years old. But it is a wise prac­tice, even essen­tial.”

I find it inter­est­ing to note that a wise, “even essen­tial” prac­tice of read­ing a more than 2000 year old text, could be only 200 years old. Why is it that it was non-essen­tial for so long?

Per­haps the most com­mon set of phras­es from the Psalm is verse 4:

One thing I ask of Adon­ai,
only that do I seek;
to live in the house of Adon­ai
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beau­ty of Adon­ai,
to be in God’s sanc­tu­ary.


I learned the melody I sing here from Rab­bis Tamar Mali­no and Eliz­a­beth Gold­stein. The oth­er night, Erev Shab­bat (sec­ond day of R“H Elul 5769) I heard a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent melody. If you know who wrote the melody I sing, or can share with me oth­ers, please do.

What can it mean (to para­phrase): “to live in God’s house and gaze on God’s beau­ty con­tin­u­ous­ly?”

R. Segal goes on to expli­cate the Psalm a bit more stat­ing that the Psalmist strug­gles to rec­og­nize that what may seem to be a life liv­ing in two dif­fer­ent worlds is actu­al­ly one.

perhaps we can unify our lives.

The folk tale adapt­ed from a ver­sion in The Dyb­buk by S. An-Sky tells us: “Every spot where a we raise our eyes to heav­en is a holy of holies.”

If we func­tion accord­ing to its teach­ing we will know that our sim­ple cor­ner is inex­tri­ca­bly linked to every oth­er spot in the cos­mos.

We know that we strug­gle to uni­fy our­selves. We can live in the para­dox of the aware­ness that those things that seem periph­er­al are so, and, at the same time essen­tial. We can Think Glob­al­ly as we Act Local­ly (on any scale). Or, per­haps, we could rephrase it to say that we “think holy, as we act pro­fane” con­tin­u­ous­ly rais­ing up sparks.

As my col­league R. Phil Pos­ner has remind­ed us…

In this spring’s CCAR Jour­nal The Reform Jew­ish Quar­ter­ly, our col­league Mar­garet Wenig shares a ter­rif­ic arti­cle on “The Poet­ry and Pow­er of Para­dox”. At the end she quotes Dr. Joel Hoff­man who points out that in the Un’tane tokef it says, “it is writ­ten” and not “God writes” because We write down who shall live by water and fire, etc. Let us be clear, Hoff­man con­cludes, as the rich­est nation in the world, we let chil­dren die in Africa, we have writ­ten them in the book of death, not God.

We may live in God’s house con­tin­u­ous­ly, but the house is in con­stant need of repair.

I the tree, you the trim­mer.” Or in the words of R. Jack Reimer which have made their way into the Gates of Repen­tance:

Now is the time for turning.”

This is the time of turn­ing. In my post for R“H Elul on August 20, 2009, I used a metaphor from the auto­mo­bile indus­try. Today, gar­den­ing.

Since the time of the first gar­den, we humans have been des­ig­nat­ed as Ziony Zevit at the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Uni­ver­si­ty describes us “agri­cul­tur­al­ists-in-res­i­dence”. Soon we will fin­ish har­vest­ing our gar­dens. The time will then come for us to turn over the soil as the new year ahead pro­gress­es.

Not only with our gar­dens, so also with us. The time has come to turn over, but more than a new leaf or a lit­tle soil. Or per­haps we should turn around, but not in the man­ner of our pup­pies that chase their tails run­ning around in cir­cles as they dis­tract us in our gar­den. Nor in the man­ner of the snakes in our gar­den, the Ouroboros the snake with its tail in its mouth, form­ing a nev­er end­ing cir­cle. No, I can­not sim­ply toss off a bit of old skin as the snake sim­ply los­es its, but remain essen­tial­ly the same.

We need to reach far­ther than the beau­ty that is skin-deep. Some­times the pipes that lay beneath our gar­dens devel­op cracks. Roots and detri­tus find their way in and clog the flow of irri­gat­ing waters. There are times when it becomes so seri­ous that we need to call for help and the com­pa­ny comes that snakes through the pip­ing, rout­ing out the accu­mu­lat­ed debris. So it is with us. We need to reach into our hearts and turn them, cleanse our thick­en­ing arter­ies, open them to fresh­ness, enable them to flow freely with the flu­ids that bring fresh life.

And thus, we will have re-turned to our­selves [Song of Songs 4:16].

Awake, o north-wind; and come, thou south;
Blow upon our gar­den that the spices there­of may flow out.
Let these sim­ple humans come into their gar­den and eat of its pre­cious fruits.

For those who want down­loads of Psalm 27 you can print or refor­mat and use for your­self (or in some oth­er set­ting), here is the text in Eng­lish and Hebrew both in PDF as well as RTF for­mats.

dalet ד for verse 4 on the forth of elul

I have a num­ber of lapel but­tons that dis­play no more than a Hebrew let­ter. At one time the Union of Ortho­dox Con­gre­ga­tions cre­at­ed a series of but­tons let­ters with the 22 let­ters as they appear in Torah script. I have a faint rec­ol­lec­tion this was done to sup­port a project of con­gre­ga­tions spon­sor­ing the writ­ing of Torah scrolls. (“Buy a let­ter in the Torah.”?)

This but­ton dates from the ear­ly 1950s or mid 1940s. I have no doc­u­men­ta­tion on it, nor any expla­na­tion as to why it was pro­duced and dis­trib­uted.



Date: 1940s?
Size: 2.1
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text ד
This entry was posted in holidays, judaica, lapel buttons, ritual and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.