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The Divine Is In the Field - But Where Are You?

A reflection during the month of Elul

I was inspired by a spiritual practice from my friend Nachshon David Carmi who shared that he wakes up very early in the morning and sits alone, in prayer and contemplation, by his pool, a body of water. Mornings prayers can be challenging with getting kids ready for school and getting yourself ready, but rather than do a quick morning davening indoors, I chose to follow Nachshon outside and pray alone in front of a body of water. In my case, we have a beautiful lake outside. We spent a lot of time on the side of our house, an area we didn’t really fully discover until the lock down of the pandemic. As we’ve come out of the pandemic, we’ve spent less time and less there because it’s very hot and humid. The heat during summers in South Florida can be brutal; it’s during the summers when most of South Florida natives actually stay in doors!

But during Elul, we learn that God is in the fields. The teaching, from Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi states:

“It is known that the month of Elul is the time of the revelation of God's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy... There is a story told of a king. As he approached his capitol at the end of a journey, the people of the city would go to out to the fields to receive and welcome him. And everyone who so desired could go out to greet him and would be received with favor and graciousness, and the king would smile upon every one of his subjects. And as he made his way into the city, they would follow him in a procession. But after his return to his palace, no one would be allowed an audience in his throne room without permission, which was granted only to the chosen and to the most select individuals. In the same way, during the month of Elul, Jews go out “to the fields” to greet the light of the Divine Countenance, for it is written: “May God lift up His countenance upon you and grant you peace” (Numbers 6:26). Thus God’s Thirteen Attributes are illuminated “face-to-face,” for it is through them that God reveals the inner essence of His those who cleave to him with all their heart and soul, from the depths of their hearts and with the utmost devotion.”

In this week’s parashah, Shoftim, we are introduced to the Israelite king, which seems quite fitting for the month of Elul. But the king described in Rabbi Liadi’s teaching is not a brutal and unkind king, but a Sovereign that is merciful, compassionate, and loving.

We can interpret this story in many ways, but for me, at least this morning, it brought me to pray outdoors as I had done so much during the summer, albeit in cooler and less humid weather. Sometimes, we have to suppress our comfort, to challenge that part of ourselves, in order to have a transcendent experience. Sometimes we have to feel discomfort in order to find comfort. That might be the greatest message of Elul and the Days of Awe.

The Sovereign is in the field waiting for you - will you go join them?

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