I went to shul this morning (yes, Sunday, not Shabbos, such things happen…) and heard the shofar. (no, not Rosh Hashanah, just the first day of Elul)
Elul is the last month of the Hebrew calendar. It’s a time of taking all of the lose pieces of your life, and trying to tie them together. Very appropriately, Rabbi Edelstein of Neve is introducing an alumni shiur, so that girls who “finish” Neve (no, you never really finish Neve (no comparisons to summer colds p lease). For a long time after I finished seminary in Bnei Brak, I received a monthly letter from the principal together will all of the other graduates. At the time they were meaningful-they brought me back to the heady idealism of seminary. When we moved away from my first apartment, I didn’t bother giving the office my new address. It was so clear to me that everything I read is so completely integrated that it wasn’t worth the effort. If I were to have them today (yes, I threw them out.), they would mean more. They would give me insight into what Elul is, which is really examining who you are, why you emerged as you did, and who you want to be in the future.
Rambam delineates various things that make you yourself.
Your biological heredity is a factor. I often suspected that intellectual ability has a hereditary side when I looked at some of the great rabbinical families such as the Soloveitchiks. More recently I discovered that all sorts of other stuff, like dyslexia and ODD are part of the package.
The next factor is what you chose to integrate from your environment and make your own. My parents were both scrupulously honest with money. I still remember how my mother went to Bais Yaakov to enroll me. I was about to enter the 7thgrade, had only after- school Hebrew School background. My mother came as is; no hair covering and no pretentions of being more religious than she was. I doubt if I would be accepted into Bais Yaakov today. The rabbi asked me briefly if I am sure that this is what I want, looked at both of us, and took out the forms. When my mother asked him how much the tuition was, he told her $9.00 a month ($100 then, was like $802.70 today. Even factoring in inflation, tuition then was very low. The parents were mostly immigrants, and the little they paid was food off the table.) There was a split-second pause. He expected her to bargain. She didn’t. Nor did she ever miss a payment, or send it late. This was far from normal in an era when no one paid retail….
My father similarly was a straight arrow. His furniture business turned sour when the neighborhood his store was located in changed. His customers had to be chased into a corner to get the money they had committed to pay out of their wallets. That never was an excuse to add on charges (or to defraud the government by not reporting income). There is no way to delete these images. They are as much part of me as my eye color or my hair.You are more than your heredity and your environment.
You have also made choices that narrow your future choices. One of my neighbors and English teacher whose has made computer graphics her hobby. Whenever there is an “occasion” in the building-a bris or a wedding, or someone moves away, there is always a witty sign with an appropriate message. The effect on her, is that she has become, over the years, an extremely sensitive person, aware of the ebbs and flows of other people’s lives and has developed into a person who is always there for them. I doubt that she realized that her first Mazal Tov sign would be the first step into becoming a person positively involved in other people’s lives, but it did. When tragedy strikes, she is there. When one of the neighbors developed memory issues, she was there, subtly helping the family. The big choices are often pre-made by the small ones.
You also have gifts, potentials that not everyone else has. You may be the kind of person who intuitively knows how to make other people relate to you and to each other. You may have musical talent, or the ability to be silent and content. You may have used your gifts well, not at all, or (in the worst case) as a tool to manipulate others. My daughter’s father in law Elya Succot is a very well- known Israeli artist. His paintings and murals can be seen all over the world. The themes are inevitably of the joy of seeking and finding Hashem. His style is impressionistic, and full of intricate sub-designs well hidden in the main focus of the painting. Really looking at his paintings are like a walk through the fields and forests of your inner life. He made choices. When he was young, and studied art in Italy, he could have let things take an entirely different direction.
You have also developed habits that you may or may not realize have become part of you. How do you respond when you are afraid, or feel trapped? Do you know how to keep your mind and heart on the same page? The way you respond today, may be the product of years of responses that you may or may not have noticed.
These fives things are open books that you can read to learn who you are. You will notice some things you like, and some things that you don’t. The good news is that Elul is the time of year that Hashem imbued with the power to open doors that you may have closed. You aren’t stuck.
It’s a time of joy,
and most of all possibility.