Drash on Elul 3: Leaving Enslavement
Rabbi Em Mueller, Sim Shalom Online Synagogue
September 6, 2016.
This month of Elul continues our journey up from the depths of mourning, commemorated on Tisha b’Av – the 9th day of the month of Av. Elul is even more focused on teshuvah – returning to our truest selves: When we see a newborn, we are awed by the innocence, by the blank slate that has yet to receive any serious marks. As the child grows, we can see the influence of its parents, its siblings, its environment. The child becomes an interaction of itself with the universe. Most people don’t get angry at an infant; maybe we get frustrated with a toddler; and by the time the child is 5 or so, there are punishments for actions. The child is growing into its own self, influenced by its surroundings, but also influenced by the true nature of the child: where one child might rebel even more at being punished, another child, receiving the same punishment, might learn a lesson and change the course of future actions.
It is to that truest self, who we are before we are bombarded by nature and nurturing, that we seek to return to during this month, culminating next month with Yom Kippur on the 10th of Tishrei.
There are many books about this month, with advice on how to “do” teshuvah. I am using 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays by Simon Jacobson.
He has written, for day 3 of Elul: Identifying damaging patterns and personal bias is an essential step on a journey to freedom from our personal bondage . . . In one way or another we’re all enslaved — by our psychological demons, or by social standards, by our parents’ words and attitudes, or by our responsibilities, by the consequences of the mistakes we’ve made, or by our careers, employers, or employees. . . .
He continues, saying that the Torah calls this learning how to be free “leaving Mitzrayim”, which literally means “narrow” and which represents all forms of enslavement . . . whatever . . . in your life that sets up obstacles, limits, or constraints. . . . To be free you must leave your personal Mitzrayim.
Torah, he tells us, is the Divine blueprint that tells you how to sustain any change you want to make. He ends with this question: To what extent have you used the guidance of the Torah to access your soul? To what extent are you familiar with what the Torah teaches in this regard?
For me, this is a new way to look at Torah. I had always thought that engaging in the study of Torah was sufficient, but perhaps there needs to be, for me, more of a connection between the desire to change, and the help Torah can afford me in making a lasting change. May this new year bring deeper understanding of, and a more intimate connection to Torah.