Dear Chevra - A letter from the Rebbe
22 Elul 5767
The moon of Elul is waning, a sure sign that the Yamim Nora-im, the Days of Awe, are fast approaching. This Saturday evening, as the last Shabbat of 5767 slips away, we begin in earnest to shake loose the energies of the old year with the haunting, rousing prayers of the S’lichot service.
I must say that I have been shaking and quaking for awhile now. For me, this past year has offered one of the steepest spiritual learning curves I can remember. Coming to the Bay Area to be with my beloved partner Burt and coming into the Minyan as a teacher and leader have shaken me to the core, challenging me to let go of some closely held assumptions about the ways I move in the world, and to refine and retool others. It has truly been a Year of Awe for me, initiated during last year’s High Holy Days—my first with the Minyan, but not yet as “your rabbi.”
As we enter into this time of deepest reflection on our own lives, our community, and our world, I want to share with you all that, in addition to my more obvious duties as rabbi with the Minyan—teaching, planning and leading services and holiday observances—I’ve spent a good deal of time individually with many folks, listening, questioning, and listening some more. I’ve discovered that, though small in numbers, the Minyan is made up of many voices, many cultures, each with strong energy, strong opinions and needs—all spiritually potent and all necessary to the whole.
I’ve seen my work, in part, as trying to hold the ground for all these voices—not falling into one strong need or opinion more than another, but rather hearing and honoring all, listening for God in all. This has been hard work, challenging to mind, heart, and physical body, and I can’t do it alone. I see that if we are to continue together to re-vision and serve the Aquarian Minyan’s mission at this time, then many more of us need to engage more consciously in this holy work.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m asked to really listen and make space for another’s mind and heart, I feel as if it will kill me—I’ll be suffocated, squeezed out. But in actuality, the listening is what allows us to live together, to integrate the disparate parts into a whole, to expand and to bring out the best in each other, and to stay God-connected, even when we’re not praying or singing or meditating together. For me, the pull to fall back into familiar, unconscious patterns is strong, and it takes commitment to keep returning to the situation or person really before me.
It’s no accident that our theme for this High Holy Days, “Practicing Love, Building Holy Community,” makes the link between loving—which I see as the art of deeply opening to what is—and the creation and sustenance of community. I’ll be speaking more about this on Yom Kippur. For now, I’d like to issue a call to each one of us, as we enter these Holy Days, to enter a process not only of personal and familial teshuvah, but also of community teshuvah. As we gather over theses next weeks to share our spirits, our creativity, and our highest selves in service of the One, I call each of us to take on a practice of listening to difference while holding the center. Perhaps in so doing, we may learn more about how being together deepens and enriches our lives on this planet, and that learning may give us more strength to carry God-Presence into our every action and interaction in the coming year.
I look forward to davenning with you again.
In gratitude and blessing,
Rabbi Diane Elliot