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This year’s High Holy Days bring on a special kind of challenge. We have many questions for God. Rabbi Whitman tells us how to start a hard conversation

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Rabbi Whitman’s promise: Our conversation with God will be substantially different if we spend this month reminding ourselves of the lesson of Elul, that God loves us (paraphrasing Psalm 27) even more than a parent loves their child | Photo: Lina Trochez (Unsplash)

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The Jewish calendar is not just a way for Jews to mark time. It is also a textbook, a source of lessons about every aspect of life. We are currently experiencing one of the most important lessons our calendar teaches. We are approaching the High Holy Days – with its heavy subjects of judgment, apologies, and forgiveness. And this year with COVID-19, many of us are experiencing pain, loss, anxiety, and uncertainty. 

Our High Holy Days this year will not only be challenging in terms of logistics – with or without our family, attending or not attending synagogue, indoors or outdoors. But much deeper: what will our connection with God be this year? Just as I am sure God has many pointed questions for me this year, I have questions for God: why is this happening to us, when will it get back to normal, what do you want of me now? 

But this one aspect of what we face now is not unique. Each of us has moments in our lives when we need to express to someone we love our questions, and expectations, and disappointments. How can we do this more effectively? Let’s learn from how God does it.

The Jewish month before Rosh Hashanah, in which we now find ourselves, is the month of Elul. We blow the shofar in shul every morning, and recite extra prayers to allow this month to prepare us for the challenges, and potential uplift, of the High Holy Days. Our rabbis teach us that the Hebrew word Elul stands for an acronym, a quote from Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), that can be paraphrased as, “God loves us, and we love God.” 

The first step for any hard conversation, in effectively holding someone responsible for their actions, or expressing our expectations or disappointments, is to convince the other of our love for them. Only when they are convinced of our love beyond any doubt, and convinced we would only do what is best for them, can we then say what might otherwise be harsh, and probably ineffective.

Our calendar teaches us that the first step God takes, before the heavy conversations God will have with us over these holy days, is to give us a month to remind us of God’s love for us. Only when we are assured of that, can we accept God’s words in the spirit they are truly given.

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This is a crucial lesson we can emulate in every relationship – between spouses, between parents and children, between a community and its leaders. First convince your listener that you genuinely love them, and then, gently start the hard conversation you need to have.

Shabbat is a particularly suitable time to transmit this. Many parents have the custom on Friday night just before Kiddush, to give a blessing to their children. You can find a traditional blessing in any prayer book, or you can express your own thoughts and words. What you say is less important than conveying your absolute and unconditional love for your child, just as God feels for us. When that is clearly understood, everything else you say is heard differently. 

I am sure you have questions for God this year – perhaps similar to mine, perhaps different. I can’t promise you will find answers, though I hope you at least find the strength to live with the questions. But I can promise this: our conversation with God will be substantially different if we spend this month reminding ourselves of the lesson of Elul, that God loves us (paraphrasing Psalm 27) even more than a parent loves their child.

Wishing you and your family a sweet, healthy, and inspirational New Year – Shana Tova!

Rabbi Michael Whitman is the spiritual leader of ADATH in Hampstead, Quebec. He is also a Sessional Lecturer at McGill University Faculty of Law and heads the Conversion Program of the Rabbinical Council of America – Montreal Region.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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