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Elul Reflections: 27 Elul 5779

“The longer you live, the more people there are
who comment on your actions. Like a worker
in a manhole: at the opening above him
people stand around giving free advice
and yelling instructions,
but he’s all alone down there in his depths.”

Yehuda Amichai

A Place Like That 

I stood below: the electrician had climbed into a darkened loft pace, going beyond the flimsy wooden frame across which chicken wire made an ineffectual barrier. The padlock previously discouraging entry to the space was missing, but one of the hoops remained, as if awaiting the return of its mate.

I could see light from the mobile phone he used to illuminate the space above. The rays reaching me were the only indication that he was up there. I could only wait for his descent and his report on the state of things in the dark.

We frequently find others who want to intervene. Well intentioned, they give advice, offer skeptical comment, perhaps enjoying the moment in which to deride whatever it is and whoever “they” are. Some people just get a kick out of helping like that.

Others are prepared to stand aside and wait for the skilled artisan to do their job. They may be on hand to assist if asked, but mostly they just have to wait and trust that there is skill and experience enough to merit the trust that must be placed in those who do the dangerous work upon which we depend.

In Elul and Tishrei, each of us has the chance to climb into a personal space, a holy darkness devoid of distraction, a place in which only the rays of optimism can coax us beyond spiritual despair in which emotional darkness overwhelms the visible light and energy around us. For some, that prospect is too dangerous. They prefer to let others descend the manhole or climb into the roof spaces of their souls.

As the moon shrinks from full to fragment, as the temporary dark before Rosh haShanah brings the tiny sliver of new light, we too have the chance to trust a dark that presages light. We are dwelling in depth, in quiet, in reflection. Those shouting from above ground, ‘giving free advice and yelling instructions’ don’t get it. The point is to be alone, surrounded, but private, as we come from darkness into light.

-- Rabbi Aviva Kipen, Progressive Judaism Victoria, Melbourne, VIC

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