Elul Reflection: 9 Elul 5777

Between out and in, between redeemed and languishing

Today I learned the meaning of denial. I was telephoned by a shule volunteer. She invited me to respond to the Seniors’ Afternoon Tea invitation, which had been sent to my husband. He later denied having received it. “What a lovely idea it would be for us to attend, to experience the company of other seniors”, she coaxed. I do have the Seniors Card, and take advantage of its benefits from time to time. But I gasped at the label that I was now a candidate for Seniors’ events and fully expected to welcome the invitation. Surely that applies to my husband, who is older than I, but not to me? 

 I smile wryly. At Pesach, the so-called Wicked Child is told that if s/he separates from the community, by asking “what is all this [Seder ritual] to me”, they forfeit a place in the communal redemption still to come, just as they would not have made it out of Egypt, because they separated their self-understanding from their whole nation. So, where is the boundary between out and in, redeemed and languishing?

Clearly, we have the right to choose how to align with our communities, which events to attend, where to place our time and effort, our philanthropic support and our intellectual investment. But as we are subject to fewer and fewer compulsions, where do we draw our individual lines, and how do others in our communities judge those observable decisions? If we drive our cars to Shule on Yom Tov, confident that God cannot be fooled if we park around the corner, at what point must we ask of ourselves ‘How much does God actually require of us?’ It is the question that underpins our individual and collective preparation for Tishrei. Denial will not avail, at any age.

--Rabbi Aviva Kipen



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