Friday, August 28, 2009


As we are now one week into the Jewish month of Elul, and three weeks away from the Rosh haShana/Yom Kippur/Sukkot/Hoshana Raba/Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah Daven-a-thon, I am excited.

The birth of a new community thrills me to no end, and I know that my dad is smiling down on us all from above, and all points beyond.

As we discussed previously, Elul is the perfect time to give and accept slichot (apologies) to and from those whom we may have, or definitely have hurt in the past year. Last year, I read a piece from R' Tvzi Freeman, a very gifted scholar, writer and Rav in the Observant world. Rabbi Freeman had an exercise that he shared with us, and I have taken a little of his exercise and combined it with a little of my own "stuff"* and created what I think works for all of us this time of year.

It matters not whether you are Observant, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Christian, Buddhist, or alien from the Planet of Xenon. Try it out, and see what you think.

Let's start off with a piece of copy or printer paper, or even loose leaf paper, and turn it sideways, so that it is facing you on the table in landscape orientation.

On the piece of paper, let's draw three diagonal lines forming 4 columns, left - to - right.

On top of the far left column, which we will call column one, write "I OWE". In the second column, write "I FEAR". In the third column, write "I COVET", and in the fourth column, write "THEY OWE".

Sit down with your paper and draft four lists. The first being those to whom you believe you owe an apology. The second, write the names of those who you fear. This could be your employer, or mother-in-law, or the neighbor's dog. The third column is used to list all those whom we covet. Are we jealous of the guy at work who just got a raise? The bimbette that received a promotion, even though you work 100 times harder? Frank on the corner who won the lottery? Or maybe, we are jealous of the couple who appear to always be so in love even after forty-seven years.

The big list, friends, is the last one, and probably the easiest one to complete. This is the list of people who have wronged US this past year. That's right. The jerk who stole that parking place. That sorry-excuse for a best friend who dated your boyfriend. Your mother for meddling in your life, or maybe, the girl at work who has no idea that you are head over heels for her and she never even says good morning. All of the people in the fourth list owe you apologies.

Now that we have made our lists, and checked them twice. Tried to find who had been naughty or nice, it is time to begin our Elul Practice.

I have found that sitting in a softly lit or dark room works best. While holding our lists to our hearts, let us close our eyes look as deeply into our Neshama, our soul, as we are able. I usually find mine somewhere in my chest area, and it appears to be a light, not unlike a "Ner Tamid", the Eternal lamp above the Ark in Shul). When we find it, we need to gaze upon it; stare at it; examine it, and dissect it. We need to respect it, be mindful of it and acknowledge it. Once we acknowledge it, and know that it is there, we need to remember how it got there. How G-d placed it there, and left this tiny light inside you when you were born, and how it grows brighter and dims lower from year to year, and month to month and day to day.

Let us now look into the light and examine each transgression of each of the people in list four. Did Billy upset me that much last week? Did my cousin really mean all those things that she said? And we continue to think about each one, and each person on the list, and begin forgiving them. One-by-one, until the list is empty. We might even remember that someone on list four, should really be on list one! If these people, our list four folks ask our forgiveness, great. If not? Well, we have already forgiven them, and forgotten. Our Neshama is clear in that department.

Moving to the right on our page, one-by-one we look into our souls and dismiss our jealousies. And one-by-one, we do what we can to dismiss our fears, for if we have faith, we know that we are protected, and that no harm may come our way.

With our page now almost empty, we need to sit down and make some phone calls. Send a few e-mails. Maybe a letter to Aunt Sadie on Long Island who doesn't hear so well anymore, and has never seen a PC. Maybe we just need to go next door and ask the neighbor for his forgiveness for not being as good a neighbor as we might have been.

Once we have done this exercise once, or twice or a dozen times between now and the First of Tishrei (Rosh haShana), we will truly be able to take the Ten Days of Teshuvah, the Days of Awe, and use our time to redevelop our relationship with G-d.

I have a confession to make. I realized this several years ago, but never had the guts to go public, so to speak. I never trusted the world to know this secret about me. I even tried a few times in my life to change, by acting differently. By acting more "mainstream" and, well, NORMAL. But as the title of this column says, and this I believe that we have all known for a very long time: Normal really IS overrated. It is boring and dull. But it is also safe. And quiet.

I think that I first discovered this about myself when I was seven or eight years old, and every Friday afternoon, my sisters and I would run up the stairs to get quick showers and change into nice clothes... I was pretty sure of this condition when, as a married man with a child of my own I would get excited to meet at my parents house on Fridays, even if it took hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic to get there.

I have struggled with my heart, and inside my head with how to "come out" as it is... What would people think? How would they react? Would I be really, really weird now, as opposed to just really weird before this announcement? Here's what I decided. If I keep this to myself, I will always wonder why I never told anyone. I might even begin to loathe myself as being untrue to myself and to others. If I tell, and spill the proverbial beans, what's the worst that could happen? Exactly.

I am a Shabbataholic. I am a true, dyed in the wool, one-of-a-kind, certified SHABBATAHOLIC.

I love everything about Shabbat. I love the smell of the house. I love the food (obviously, if you have seen me lately); I love reading Torah on Thursday morning in anticipation of being able to say SHABBAT SHALOM that evening because Friday is EREV Shabbat!

I love sitting with my kids and singing Zmirot. I love spending Kabalat Shabbat with my students in Friday afternoon. I love buying Challah and dessert and bringing home flowers and knowing that the week, no matter how good or trying it was, is over.

It is Shabbat. Absent an emergency call, the phone goes unanswered; On Friday night we sing and we sometimes dance. We are together. We are Shabbat.

On Saturday morning, we daven. We thank G-d for all he has given and continues to give, and we hallow his Shabbat as he has asked us to do. And Havdalah time on Saturday evening, as beautiful a service as it is, is also the saddest for me. Shabbat is over. But-- It will be here again in Six days, twenty three hours, fifty nine minutes, and counting.........I am, my dear friends, a Shabbataholic. And I am proud to be a Shabbataholic. Would you like to join me?


Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur Services for the newly formed Congregation Emek haMidbar will be held at the Clarion Hotel in Scottsdale, September 18, 19, 20 and September 27 evening for Kol Nidre and September 28 for Yom Kippur. Shofar will be blown at 7:49pm. Tickets are available by contacting me or another member of the committee. You will be receiving an e-vite just after Shabbat. I will never refuse entry to one who wishes to daven with us, but as there are expenses to cover, we are asking that a minimum donation of $100 per person or $180 for two is made. There is no charge for anyone under Bar/Bat Mitzvah age. Please contact me should you have any questions relative to tickets.

Will you be a link in An Unbroken Chain?
As you may know, we are making An Unbroken Chain, a feature film based on the true life story of a Holocaust Survivor. With a few dollars and a few minutes, you can help us make this film happen. Please visit for more details about how you can take action.

Thank you to Bob and Michelle Casselman for their hospitality and the wonderful Havdalah reception last week with Congregation Ahavat Shalom. I thank you, Rabbi Allouche for inviting me to participate.

From one Shabbataholic to hopefully many more, I wish you the happiest of Shabbatot. Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach. Ahavah u'Vrachot. Love and Blessings...

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

1 comment:

  1. Inspiring and motivating!
    Meaningful Elul wishes!
    From your good friends at Joo-Tube.