14th Elul - prepare to be ready
What do you need to do to be ready for Kabbalat shabbat? Can one just race through the week, rush into the house and then either turn on the computer or dash over to the shul, and be in the service for the receiving of shabbos? How does one enter fully, heart and mind, into such a relationship, the welcoming into ones life of a beloved, a partner, the sabbath?
Lomir ale in eynem, in eynem, shabes mekabl ponim zayn, let’s all together welcome shabes.
Mekabl ponim, to receive the face of, is one way to say ‘welcome’ in Yiddish. To receive the face of shabbos, to enter into a relationship with it, not just for an hour, but for 25 hours, we need to prepare, prepare our homes and our meals and our time and our souls; we have to be ready, because it is the day on which we are closest to God and to be ready requires forethought and work – as it does in learning about our traditions. I am reading a novel called Raising Sparks, by Ariel Kahn, about a young woman kabbalist. There it is again. Kabbalist, an inheritance. But this inheritance, this reception of esoteric knowledge comes from an open spirit, yes, but also from an prepared mind, layer upon layer of commitment to study, and to imagine, and then to understand.
Elul has begun, heralded by the shofar, a countdown from this new moon to the next one, Rosh Hashanah. After Rosh Hashanah, we quickly face Yom Kippur. We receive Elul with a blast of the shofar, sounded the first day and every day. And why a shofar? To call us to be at the ready, to prepare, because soon the day for atonement will be here.
The same question about kabbalat shabbat is posed here – can we just rush in and find any meaning in Yom Kippur if we are not ready, if we have not mekabl ponim zayn elul? You hear in the question the negative – no. You must prepare, homes and meals, and time, and soul. But something even more is needed for getting ready and the time is given to us, and the guidelines have been suggested for us.
So how do we mekabl ponim zayn Elul and Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur? With what kind of face do we greet these holy times? Elul and all of the time up until Yom Kippur is about love of the other, because without love of the other, there can be no love of the Ultimate Other, without intimacy with others, there can be no intimacy with the Other.
Search your soul, interrogate your actions, connect, encounter, and be the kind of presence you want to see in the world. If we want to be able to receive God in our life, we need to bring to the people made in Gods image our kindest and gentlest and most whole selves, shining in our eyes, and in the set of our cheeks, in the incline of our necks, and in the outlines of our smiles. וֶהֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת Receive all people with a pleasant countenance, taught Shammai.
Lomir ale in eynem, in eynem, elul mekabl ponim zayn. Let us together welcome elul. And if we welcome elul, if the people who share this earth with us are beloved by us, then God will receive us and our prayers with love.
Rabbi Chazan Dr Barbara Borts