Elul: A Time to Search and Destroy

“It does not do to leave a dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

Throughout the Hebrew month of Elul, the shofar is sounded every day except the Sabbath, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jews at the time months were first named, Elul means “search.”

The entire month, blasts of the shofar serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to begin our internal search- the deep, spiritual work of the season. However, the day before Rosh Hashanah the shofar is silent. It is said one reason for this change in pattern is to confuse Satan, who may have viewed the daily repetition as mindless routine and is rattled by  the sudden stop. Befuddling Satan, throws him off his evil game.

The pregnant pause in the pattern also provides us with the opportunity to reset, to collect our intentions for the resumption of the shofar, which, before it is sounded in the Torah service Rosh Hashonah mornings, is introduced by the recitation of a series of six Hebrew verses. The acronym formed by the first letter of each of these verses spells out the phrase Kra Satan, “rip up [destroy] Satan.” This declaration expresses the desire to  rid ourselves of our own debilitating negativity and the evil influences in our midst.

According to gematria, the numerical representation of Hebrew letters and words, the Hebrew word for “Satan” equals 359. The word “nachash” (the snake in the Garden of Eden) equals 358. Kabbalah teaches that in tabulating the numerical value of a word, the number one may be added to represent the word as a whole. Therefore “Satan” and “nachash,” both equalling 359, may be viewed as synonyms for negative energy or evil.   The spiritual counterbalance to the primordial snake and Satan is the Messiah, whose name, fittingly, also equals 359.

The upcoming Jewish new year, 5780, contains the number 80, the numerical value for the Hebrew letter pey,  meaning “mouth,” and by extension, “word,” “expression,” “breath.”  The number 80 is the same numerical value of the words yesod and gevurah, “foundation” and “strength.” There seems to be more and more evil in our world, whether in the form of dragons, snakes or human incarnations of Satan. It won’t do, to leave this tragic reality out of our calculations. It will take a foundation of creativity, courage, strength and leadership for us to banish Satan and begin the holy work of repair.










Control Remote Parent

baby-with-remote Walking down Broadway today on the Upper West Side, I observed the most extraordinary example of the ingenuity of children. I’d often wondered what babies and toddlers are thinking when their stroller-pushing parents or caregivers are engaged in lengthy, often heated dialogue via cell phone. Today I got my answer. From half a block away, I saw a woman briskly pushing the latest in designer strollers. The passenger, her adorable little boy, no older than two, appeared to be waving an object at his mother. She was dressed in exercise gear, getting in a brisk stroller power walk. Totally admirable, I thought, to share quality time with her baby while burning some calories and toning herself on a gorgeous summer day. Until I got closer and saw that the speed-walking mom was guiding the stroller with one hand, while the other pressed her iPhone to her ear. She was having, shall we say, an enthusiastic conversation with someone, somewhere, who was not the son with whom she was supposedly sharing her walk. As I passed them, I saw that the object he was turning around and waving at Mommy was a television remote. He kept aiming it at her and pushing one button, over and over, hoping eventually it would work to Pause his mother, to stop her phone call and the speed-walk, to freeze her in time. Maybe then, she would look at him and realize that right there in front of her was someone who deserved her complete attention, right now. In this precious, fleeting moment.