A Potent Moon (Elul)
Tomorrow evening the new moon of Elul rises in the sky, heralding a lunar cycle of preparation before the arrival of the new year, Rosh Hashana. These days overflow with potency. The actions, practices and intentions that we perform these days are met with great receptivity, and more than in any other season, we are able to taste the fruits of our labor, like berries in high season, like manna.
The first practice of the new year, is listening to the sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn, which we begin to sound daily in the month of Elul. Why is listening the first practice of the year?
The rabbis of the Talmud imagine bizarre scenarios of folks hearing or overhearing shofar sounds and they ask in each case — has this person fulfilled the imperative of the ram’s horn, that is, has this person truly listened? They imagine someone walking the roaming hills of the Catskills, corn fields, barns, cows and all; that person hears what they think is a shofar, and she gives her heart, but it’s really just a braying donkey. Does this count? Has she listened? They imagine another soul, passing by west tenth street, overhearing the sound of the shofar, but without any intention to do so. Did he listen?
Listening is the first practice of the year, encapsulated in the metaphor of the shofar, because intention is exactly the marker which distinguishes conscious from unconscious action. Listening is the basis for all of our work in the year to come. It’s easy to hear the shofar — but did you really listen? You can perform most any action lazily, unintentionally; but to make your pancakes, prune your garden, be in a relationship with radical aliveness necessitates constant (regenerating) intention.
This is the month of potent, constant intention. Every time you perform an action, you teach yourself to perform the next action in the same way. That’s why we can’t allow ourselves to do anything unintentionally. The garbage, the bills, the monotony that accompanies every devotion — did you really listen? Our ears, our heart — they’re changed with every deed.
Sow the seeds of your practice with vigor. Diet, learning, creativity, attention, devotion to whatever calls to your single-minted soul. Make it happen.
Shabbat Shalom my friends. See you in a moon.
Rabbi Zach Fredman