As we enter into the unique season anticipating our High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, this famed Hasidic story comes to my mind:
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the 18th Century rabbi of Belarus was denounced to the government on account of his beliefs and life conduct. He was jailed in Saint Petersburg and awaiting his interrogation when the chief of police came into his cell. Deep in contemplation, Rabbi Zalman was not aware of his visitor. The chief, a thoughtful man, noted the rabbi’s powerful but serene facial expression and intuited the sort of person his prisoner was. He began to converse with the rabbi and soon raised several questions that had occurred to him when reading the scripture. Finally, he asked: “How am I to understand that God, who is omniscient, asks Adam, ‘Where are you?’” Rabbi Zalman replied: “Do you believe that scripture is eternal and encompasses every age, every generation, and every person?” “Yes, I believe that,” said the chief. “Well now,” said the Rabbi, “In every age God addresses every person with the question, ‘Where are you in your world? Already so many of your allotted years and days have passed. How far have you come in your world?’ Perhaps God will say, ‘You have lived forty-six years. Where are you now? ” When the chief of police heard the exact number of his years, he pulled himself together, clasped the rabbi’s shoulder, and exclaimed: “Bravo!”
But his heart trembled.
In the Garden of Eden, as Torah tells it, God calls to the first human beings: Ayeka? Where are you? Through the lens of this Hasidic tale, we understand this story of human origins speaks to our present condition: as we prepare to make the Creation of our cosmos on Rosh HaShanah, each of us is annually asked: Ayeka? Where are you in your world?
Ayeka? embodies the deepest spiritual questions: what have we done? What have we become? Are we on the paths we had hoped? Are there changes we need to make in our lives? Have we done the best even with this worst of last years that was given to us? Are we really ready to make the most out of a potentially even more difficult year that is coming?
Our High Holy Days call us to account to answer these questions. Rosh HaShanah is our sacred day of renewal, and Yom Kippur allows us the gift of reorienting our future so we can become our better selves. The ten days that link these two festivals are meant to be a period of deep personal examination followed by transformation.
But some of us might need more than just ten days for that!
Luckily, our Jewish heritage has given us Elul, the last month on our Hebrew calendar to precede our New Year. The days of Elul are designed to spur on the process of inner examination and personal transformation that culminate in Yom Kippur. Moving through this month with intention will help us ready ourselves to answer that age-old question: Where are you? Ayeka?
This year at Chicago Sinai Congregation, we are transforming our entire program calendar to allow each of us the opportunity Elul provides. We have filled our calendar with opportunities for taking account of ourselves, for anchoring our growth for the future based on the traditions of the past, and for connecting with community to strengthen our steps. We hope you join us for many of these experiences, so that together we might be best prepared as a community to meet our New Year, 5781.