Elul Reflections: 12 Elul 5780

Last year I received an image of a huge iceberg from a colleague. The visible fraction of the structure above the water line was labelled The Sermon. But the vast and treacherous invisible structure below the water was labelled The Preparation. I revisited that image recently. Even though I won’t be preparing sermons for this cycle of High Holydays, the metaphor remains powerful.

Have you updated your ethical or legal wills, or written letters to your parents, partner, siblings, children and other dear ones in the wake of Covid-19? Covid has focussed the mind on the thin line between life and death. That evokes the spiritual task of Yom Kippur for me. Mostly, we carry lots of burdens ‘below the water line’ out of sight of others. We may prefer that they remain unseen. Yet they still lurk, whether others know it or not. But on Yom Kippur nothing is hidden, whether we choose to inspect the baggage or not. 

Like the iceberg, we are weighed down. Life is cumbersome and subject to fracture. It is dangerous and jagged below the surface; hazards take their toll. The God we understand as The One Who Sees cannot be fooled. What lurks below is clear from the higher vantage point. A deep dive for close examination is dangerous, dark and probably chilling. But to know what’s there, we must take the metaphorical ‘plunge’. That’s what Elul feels like to me this year. The Covid virus thrives in cold temperatures. We are all in that freezing ocean together. Those with the imposed “leisure” of lockdown may have unexpected time available to map our “underwater” selves as Yom Tov approaches. It’s time to go there.

-- Rabbi Aviva Kipen

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