Waking Up to What Is

The month of Elul calls us to (re)turn toward the High Holidays and all they represent: celebration, creation, introspection, repentance, forgiveness,
community, prayer and togetherness. 

We prepare ourselves anew to wake up to that of which we remind
ourselves (at least) yearly: our interconnectedness, our being part of something greater than ourselves, our humanity, our imperfections, our flaws and our triumphs, the better version of ourselves and the memory of loved ones who are no longer with us.

Even without two years of a global pandemic, the unrest and upheaval
that has forever changed the way we worship as a community, we are all
changed as we find ourselves yet again at this particular point of the Jewish
yearly cycle that is the month of Elul. What has changed for you? How can
Jewish tradition support you in affirming who and where you are at this particular moment? What words of liturgy, what melody, what ritual, what observation will be there for you to comfort, to soothe, to encourage, to inspire, to wake you up to your life as it is now?

“How can you be sleeping so soundly?” is both a quote from the book of
Jonah, which we read on Yom Kippur afternoon and the first line of a piyut, which opens up the S’lichot service according to the Mizrahi community. 
In the book of Jonah, our hero allows anxiety and fear to shut him down. So
much so that he finds himself in the belly of a ship, unaware that a storm is about to challenge the ship and those on board. At this point, the ship’s captain asks Jonah “how can you be sleeping so soundly?”

The piyut re-contextualizes the verse from Jonah by inviting/instructing the
reciter to rise up and voice their pleas:

Human beings, How can you be sleeping so soundly?
Rise up and voice your pleas!
Pour out your words, seek forgiveness
From the Source of All.

based on a translation by Rabbi Nancy Flam

To listen to a variety of musical settings from Jewish communities across
the world, click here.

Maimonides uses a similar sentiment to explain his reasoning for blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah:

Notwithstanding that the blowing of the ram’s horn trumpet on Rosh ha-
Shanah is a Scriptural statute, its blast is symbolic, as if saying: “Ye that
sleep, bestir yourselves from your sleep, and ye slumbering, emerge from your slumber, examine your conduct, turn in repentance, and remember your Creator!”

Mishneh Torah 3:4

While it’s very easy for the human ear to hear Maimonides’ request sound
like a demand, let us turn toward the invitation within those words: What might we gain by shifting from a state of sleepiness to a state of awakening? How would we be enriched by waking up to the mystery of our being? What is needed for us to wake up and what ripple effects might waking up have on us and the people in our lives?

As we’re all invited to contemplate those questions, we’re reminded that
the ways that lead toward awakening are as diverse as our communities. The sources worth waking up to are as rich as our traditions. So, be comforted knowing there isn’t one “right” way of waking up. 
Sometimes we find ourselves too comfortable in our metaphorical warm
beds, immersed in a dream, that we actively hit the snooze button to continue the state of sleep for just a few more moments. Sometimes waking up is difficult.

Sometimes we simply don’t hear the wake-up call. There is a reason why many of us choose to stay asleep. And for many, waking up requires dedication and work. While there’s ample space, encouragement and permission to just “be” and just rejoice in one’s existence without looking for purpose or justification (just look at our weekly Shabbat rituals), this angle of Elul, with its variety of “wake-up” calls, is different – giving us the entire four weeks to actively wake up to a new year.

Let us use these instructions to our advantage. Let us wake up to the
accomplishments and failings of our lives and let us recognize them. Let us wake up to the possibilities of allowing sacredness into our lives. Let us wake up to the sound of life all around us. Let us wake up to the certainty of godliness within ourselves. 

Wishing us all meaningful weeks of Elul.

Cantor Juval