The Year of Lost and Found: Elul in the Time of Coronavirus

September 11, 2020Rabbi Beth Lieberman

Elul, our spiritual countdown to Yom Kippur, is different this year.

There is a Chasidic story about Elul that encourages us to see ourselves as tenant farmers. We go out to the field every day to do our work. But during Elul, we go out to the field as we usually do, and we meet the One who owns the land, a.k.a. God. This encounter is intimate and powerful, and life-changing.

Why does it happen now? Because the spiritual practices of the month of Elul, which include hearing the shofarshofarשׁוֹפָרRam’s horn most commonly blown throughout the month of Elul and during the High Holiday season. , reading psalms, engaging in our annual review cheshbon hanefesh – literally, an accounting of the soul – invite the Divine Presence to be with us for these 40 days.

For many of us, this time of coronavirus has been a year of lost and found.

We have lost our ability to hug and to touch others; some of us have lost our ability to earn a living; we have lost our ability to connect to the outside world in the ways we know best; we have canceled our plans and deferred our dreams. Every day is a struggle to maintain our belief in ourselves amidst the grief and pain that surrounds us. This year has made us all vulnerable like never before.

As reported in The New York Times, there is a couple, Allison and Morgan Gold, who raise ducks and geese on their 150-acre Vermont farm. They made a very modest income doing this, until Morgan began filming videos of himself doing his chores and posting them on YouTube. He happens to be a good storyteller, and he will be the first to tell you that farming has its challenges. These YouTube videos have gotten pretty popular and now; Morgan is a “farm influencer.” He has put his vulnerability and passion out there and found a way to make the farming thing work, at least for now. In a way, the Golds have met God in the field.

This year of loss has also, in important ways, been a year of finding. We are finding new reservoirs of patience and new ways to appreciate those we love and care for; we are finding ways to learn new skills, to explore interests, and to flatten geographical boundaries through digital community.

And because we now can see the frayed edges of our lives – really see them – we are finding ways to repair them. We are making new grooves, imagining lives beyond what we used to be fixed horizons, and we are finding the moral courage to hear the cries of those whom we had previously shut out – which is a way of hearing the shofar. We are in the field, dialoguing with the Divine Presence.

This new year, let’s keep what we have found. Let’s bring our newfound purpose, strength, and courage into the times ahead.

Related Posts

Measuring Demons in the Wake of the Pandemic

I spent months hiding inside my home after Covid-19 was declared a global health emergency. During that time, the Talmudic description of evil spirits resonated with me. It was certainly how I felt, surrounded by invisible threats just outside my door. Since I am a children's author, I channeled these fears into a picture book featuring a supernatural spirit.

An Invitation to Return

As we look out from the pulpit, we know there are good reasons that some faces that were familiar before March 2020 are now missing. We have embraced technology at every opportunity. The quality of our livestreaming worship, even in smaller synagogues, is excellent. Many congregants have grown accustomed to praying from the comfort of their couch.