A beautiful garden is well-ordered and weedless. This is the month for getting our gardens ready. They need a lot of work . . .
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.
-Song of Songs 6:3
The first letter of each word in Song of Songs 6:3:
HOW IT WORKS: I will post a few texts and some of my reflections as a discussion starter. Discussion will happen in the blog comments until 10:00 p.m. Eastern time. Use the refresh icon on your browser to read as new comments come in.
IF YOU’RE A FIRST-TIME COMMENTER: WordPress will ask you to register. Sorry, but I can’t prevent that. And I will have to approve your first comment. But I will be doing that during the hour of discussion and your comment will appear.
IF YOU WANT TO JUST LURK: Please at least say hello and make a short comment. It will be more fun for all if most people at least say something.
RULES: This is discussion about repentance, mussar, High Holidays, and God. Anti-Jewish comments, rudeness, comments of excessive length, and similar misdemeanors will get you deleted. But I expect the best of those who show up and I doubt there will be any unpleasantness.
SOME TEXTS AND DISCUSSION STARTERS AFTER THE JUMP . . .
In Mesillat Yesharim (The Path of the Just), Chaim Luzzato (the Ramchal) makes much of Avodah Zara 20b (Babylonian Talmud or Bavli) which says:
The knowledge of Torah leads to watchfulness, watchfulness to zeal, zeal to cleanness, cleanness to abstinence, abstinence to purity, purity to saintliness, saintliness to humility, humility to fear of sin, and fear of sin to holiness.
By contrast to this emphasis on precision, care, and attention to detail, much “garden preparation” leading up to the High Holidays might be characterized this way: I sprayed, pulled a few clumps of crab grass, and covered the bad spots with mulch. We should be good for this season.
Most of us repent too little. Our knowledge of our own nature is too shallow. Our vision of the loftiness of God and the depth of his giving love is dull.
Chaim Luzzato also says:
There are but few who study the nature of the love and the fear of God . . . The reason they are neglected is because they are regarded as so familiar and commonplace . . . Indeed, one who is saintly is inevitably suspected of being a dullard.
Luzzato begins his book with the remarkable statement:
I have not written this book to teach the reader anything new.
In other words, study of discipline, character, wisdom, love and awe of God is not about information per se. It is about attention to detail, observation, discernment, prudence, persistence in observing, and constant exercise.
Rabbi Shaul Wagschal (The Practical Guide to Teshuvah) applies these ideas to the traditions of Elul:
If a person does not begin the practice of teshuvah (repentance) on the first day of the month of Elul, it is almost certain he will not ascend in spirituality during the month.
Anyone who has gardened much knows, weeds are persistent and vigorous. A once-a-season garden clean-up is as ineffectual as the once-a-year, half-hearted High Holiday routine many engage in.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT REPENTANCE THIS ELUL AND HIGH HOLIDAY SEASON? DO YOU HAVE SCRIPTURES, MUSSAR TEXTS, SELECTIONS FROM THE MACHZOR, TRADITIONS, OR IDEAS TO SHARE?
THE BIG QUESTION: WHY DO WE REPENT TOO LITTLE?