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Today we have begun the Hebrew month of Elul with a new moon in the sky.  The 30 day countdown to Rosh Hashana when we will see the next new moon.  We add to that the 10 days from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur, the Yamin Noraim.  And we have a 40 day period for reflection, repentance and renewal.   

What a gift!  Our goal is not to wait until Rosh HaShana to start thinking about our successes and failures or the ways we have missed the mark.  But to start now.  To look up in the sky each night and let the phases of the moon inspire us to search our souls and to be ready to start 5781 with a fresh start.

This week’s parsha is Shoftim which underscores the theme of Justice from in Deuteronomy with the famous words - Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof  - Justice, justice you shall pursue.  (D16:20) You shall pursue - this is an action incumbent on each one of us.  We need to be in active pursuit of justice.  

With a simple phrase the Torah distinguishes two types of Justice.  The phrase is Misphat- Tzedek.  In the commentary Eitz Hayim we learn that Tzedek is  justice in the sense of doing the right thing in a legal procedure and Misphat  is the cosmic principle of justice that is so important it  maintains harmony in the world. (p. 1088)

Both are important.   And remind us of the Jewish imperative to create a just society.  How do we do that?  By following this principles in Deut 16:19. They are the first teachings after appointing judges.  “You should not judge unfairly, not show partiality, not take bribes, for bribes blind the eye of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.”

All of these are ways of reminding us of the limits of human power.  It is a system set up to protect the most vulnerable among us, from the most powerful.

Tonight I’d like to help you have a meaningful Elul, so that when Rosh HaShana 5781 gets here you feel you have a head start and by the time Yom Kippur rolls around you’ll be ready to start the New Year- as a version of your best self.

  • In what ways are you one of the vulnerable?   In what ways are you one of the powerful?
  • Have you taken responsibility for your own state of mind or do you find yourself blaming others for your unhappiness?
  • Have you been careless with following Covid guidelines forgetting that these are rules to protect us, not rules for us to try to get around.
  • How have you contributed to the racism problem in America?    What can you do to help fix the issues? 
  • How have you played a role in not preventing injustices in our society.   What injustices are you going to work to eliminate to fix.
  • How have you helped others this past year?
  • What was your biggest accomplishment or the thing you are most proud of in the past year?
  • Where will you put your energy in the coming year?  Is this a shift in behavior or similar to 5780.

Jonathan Safran Foer in writing about the environmental crisis writes- We believe that the environmental crisis is caused by large outside forces and therefore can be solved only by large, outside forces. He continues with this fabulous line-  “But recognizing that we are part of the problem is the beginning of taking responsibility for the solution.” (We are the Weather p. 110)

This Elul, we can work toward justice, not by waiting for others to act, but by searching in our own souls to determine ways that we can change our own behaviors to help the moral arc bend toward justice.  Each of us can play our part to make the world in 5781 and onward, better than it has ever been before.   And just think, if each of us in our congregation does the work and then we come together as a community of faith and justice, we can truly change the world.