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The Month of Elul: Corona Style

August 20, 2020 | by Rabbi Binyomin Weisz

The pandemic has enabled us to encounter our selves with a dose of honesty.

The world for many of us has shrunk.

For those who find themselves in quarantine - or worse - that's pretty clear. But people everywhere are living with sudden limitation in their movement and their social interactions. For once, our homes have become where we live our lives.

It's a strange place, this shrunken world.

People are struggling to find their feet and - with loneliness, boredom and anxiety becoming new norms - it seems that modern life has left us unprepared for existence here.

In the old world even when staying home we felt safely anchored to the big outside; all options were always open. The world had us enchanted with its endless streams of action and distraction. And potential activity gave us the placating illusion of real activity.

Until now.

Suddenly we meet a state of inertia - of alone - that cannot be rationalized as a 'choice'. We are with ourselves or our immediate families for far longer than we might ever choose. Welcome to life without the options...

And that's not easy!

Being in this new place certainly reveals our strengths, our ability to connect and our resilience. But it also exposes the painful holes in our lives. Habits, confusions and emptiness that regular life elegantly glosses over are now here in undeniable 4-D. Likewise the limitations, flaws and self-deceptions we so often ignore.

Corona has enabled us to encounter our selves.

Every situation and every challenge is there to help us thrive. Let us reflect for a moment on the pivotal place we stand in the Jewish year. We are entering Elul, the Hebrew month designated for inner searching, for returning to what is real. The time we reconnect to God and the spiritual meaning in our lives.

As we enter these special days this is exactly what we need: to focus inward with a dose of honesty.

We find ourselves guided away from the superficial and the incidental, towards focus, towards integration, towards essence.

For many, corona has stripped away travel, sport, entertainment, eating out, retail therapy – the activities that so often pull us away from self. Away from presence and self-knowledge, from living life with meaning and dedication to higher ideals. Indeed, the virus has shut down exactly the interconnected, external world that powered its spread across the globe. It has taken humanity in the opposite direction: inward.

When borders and businesses close, when travel and tourism become something of the past, countries become populated by their citizens; nations rely on their own resources. Homes have just their families. We find ourselves guided away from the superficial and the incidental towards focus, towards integration.

Towards essence.

In this world I stand alone, as me. With whatever of my life I have succeeded in rooting into reality. All that still exists within me when detached from the world of the external.

And this is the goal of Elul. Elul leads us steadily, day by day, towards Rosh Hashanah. It gives us time to introspect, to clarify what we stand for – and to return to our true selves. So that when we arrive at the grand Coronation of the King we will find ourselves able to reunite with our essence, both as individuals and as a nation.

We will know to place the crown where it truly belongs.

I believe this microscopic virus has achieved something cosmic. It's hard to imagine anything that could trigger such dramatic changes in such a short amount of time. Being careful not to rose-tint the suffering and the worry, it seems that a new opportunity is unfolding for mankind. And yes – for myself too.

The situation calls us to be present with ourselves without running away. Starting with simply experiencing our reality this moment. With appreciating more deeply what we do have – basic gifts like health, four walls and family. And ultimately: facing my strengths and my weaknesses. The things I have planted well and those I have yet to plant.

Because in the quiet of this place I finally hear the voice that was always there – its whisper now amplified with the arrival of Elul:

Who are you and What do you live for?

Twenty years down the line some may look back at these times as dark, sanitizer-imbued wells of loneliness and confusion. Some may remember how they binged on Netflix series till they felt sick or stayed glued to endless contagion bulletins. Others the unease of stagnation. These might be days they prefer not to recall.

There is another way.

We can remember hard days but good days. Days which helped make us the better people we became. Yes, we distanced socially, but inside something came together. It was a time we thought about our wants and about what's really worth valuing. When we found the courage to face the holes in our lives - and decided to plant in those holes something new, held firm by fresh conviction and wiser habits.

We can look back and see how we entered an era of clarity and stepped up to higher purpose. We got to know a deeper self. And that's why, when we finally took off our masks and went back to the big outside, our actions had more focus. Our days somehow had more meaning and our relationships were more real.

We didn't lose ourselves again.

So this year, with so many parts of our lives on hold, maybe we can welcome the month of Elul with self-honesty – and a deeper approach. As we stay rooted within our four walls, let’s allow corona to guide us to a smaller, somehow truer world. The season has come to search inward. To plant the seeds that can grow who we really are.


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