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The Same Paths

09/09/19 10:20:32 AM


Rabbi Boris Dolin

Elul Message: Week Two

In a few weeks I will be running a marathon. While not my first, spending these final few weeks training in the month of Elul has been especially meaningful, and these long early morning runs give me plenty of time to reflect.


Over the years, like most runners, I have built up a small list of my favorite streets and trails, places where my feet flow smoothly and my mind can stay focused. While I am still somewhat new to Montreal, with endless neighborhoods still to explore, I remember the feeling of so many other runs over the past years. The runs had become familiar enough that as I passed certain key points, I would find myself brought back to moments in the past when I had crossed these same places. Going over the moss-covered bridge, I am brought back to a nervous run before my wedding day. Passing a certain tree would remind me of my celebratory sprint after I completed my final paper before graduating from university. Or climbing a certain long, seemingly endless hill would bring me back to my first long and tired run after my oldest son was born. Each place with a different story, with which more layers added every time I pass.


We are in the midst of the month of Elul, the time of year when we are asked to reflect and search for ways to improve ourselves in preparation for the New Year.

Every year as we experience these holidays, I, like others in our community, go through the same prayers and stories, chant the same tunes, and am asked the same questions of how best to improve myself in the year to come. So much of what we do and say is the same, but of course, it is we who are different. Each year brings us new joys and challenges, new relationships and always new problems that need fixing.


For me, the familiarity of the liturgy and rituals provides the strongest motivation to change, in part because they, like my favorite runs, bring me back to where I was, who I was, in years past. We know that in the past year we had given ourselves the challenge to improve, and we are still not perfect. We may have committed ourselves to work harder to do acts of tikkun olam, of healing the world, and the world is not fully fixed. Once, not too long ago, we looked deep within, searching for the broken parts of ourselves, working to truly find wholeness and healing.


We will always be crossing the same paths in our lives, and we don’t have the choice to simply turn around and do things all over again. In fact, the challenge of being human is that we often end up performing the same actions and making the same mistakes no matter how many times we have tried to improve. The idea of teshuva, returning, asks us instead to do something quite simple, to look back at who we were, see how we can grow to become better people, and then try our best to fix what is broken. It may not work the first time, but we know we can return again, and try again, the next time we find ourselves in the same place. And in the season of reflection, may we all be blessed to return to a place of true healing and wholeness.

Sat, February 22 2020 27 Shevat 5780