Can you hear the wake up call?: Elul at Kavana

This week, we are called by multiple voices to wake up, and to move ourselves into a morally upright posture. When, in the words of Michelle Obama, we "truly open our hearts," we will be able to become who we want to be. Let's get up, and let's get to work.

This is a week of tekiot -- of clarion warnings and wake-up calls.

At the Democratic National Convention Monday night, Michelle Obama sounded the wake-up call for our country on a moral level, when she said: "And I know that regardless of our race, age, religion, or politics, when we close out the noise and the fear and truly open our hearts, we know that what's going on in this country is just not right. This is not who we want to be." She ended her comments with an exhortation to all of us to vote, and to "do everything we can" this election season.

In our Torah portion, too, we hear a sharp warning about what will happen if we come into the promised land and then proceed to set over ourselves a king who is selfish and materialistic. According to Deuteronomy 17:16, this would represent a turning in the wrong direction -- literally, a return towards Egypt and slavery. The Torah commands, instead, that each king should commission his own written copy of the Torah and proceed to read from it "all the days of his life." For an earthly king -- and also for the rest of us -- Torah functions to keep us morally aligned and humble.

This week's Haftarah -- the fourth of the seven Haftarot of consolation -- takes up a consistent message too, as Isaiah prophesies (in chapters 51 and 52) in stirring language: "hitoreri, hitoreri" ("wake up, wake up"); "uri uri" ("arise, arise"); "suru suru" ("turn, turn"). The repetition of each of these verbs adds to the sense of urgency: now is the time to pay attention, to get up, and to change direction.

Last but certainly not least, tomorrow is the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul. During Elul, shofar is to be sounded on every day of the month except for Shabbat, until we arrive at Erev Rosh Hashanah. Like all the words of warning and the exhortation mentioned above, shofar, too, is intended to be heard as a clarion wake-up call. Maimonides stated this most famously, in his description of shofar as an alarm clock of sorts, calling to us: "Sleepers, wake up from your slumber! Examine your ways and repent and remember your Creator" (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuva 3:4).

The message is so consistent -- whether we hear it in the voice of Michelle Obama, or from the words of the Torah portion, or through the urging of the prophet Isaiah, or from the pure voice of the shofar itself.  Wake up. Pay attention. Now is the time.

Perhaps, we can also hear this message from deep inside ourselves this time of year. We know -- and this unusual year has perhaps revealed with new urgency -- that there are changes we need to make: within ourselves, in our relationships and our communities, in our society and in how we relate to our planet and to the rest of humanity. We need to consider who we want to be, and realign our deeds with our intentions. This is precisely the meaning of teshuvah (return, repentance), and the core work of the season.

That said, change is hard. It's hard to get started, and hard to move ourselves. Most of the time, it's human nature to want to keep hitting the snooze button on our spiritual alarm clocks, and put off this difficult work until later. This is why Jewish tradition starts prodding us now... it's time... this isn't the kind of person you want to be, and this isn't yet the world you want to live in... get up, get up... there's a better path... turn around, turn around, wake up, wake up.

Can you already hear the wake-up call this year? If so, what action(s) does it stir you to take? Do you need to hear it again, articulated in some other way? Maybe it'll take a whole month for the message to sink in!

As we embark in earnest on the High Holiday season now, we encourage everyone in the Kavana community to pick a path for Elul -- one that will help wake you up (or keep you awake) and support you in doing the work you most want and need to do this year! Keep reading below, and learn about how Kavana is providing three paths for you to choose from, each of which offers depth and multiple touch points, rich Jewish content, and a sense of community and camaraderie with fellow travelers.

We urge you to pick a concrete action, too. Bring a bike, or make a contribution, to support our bike drive this weekend and its multi-pronged benefits. Write some letters for Vote Forward, whether or not you're able to join us on next week's Zoom call. Find an opportunity to do a mitzvah, in the Kavana community or beyond.

This week, we are called by multiple voices to wake up, and to move ourselves into a morally upright posture. When, in the words of Michelle Obama, we "truly open our hearts," we will be able to become who we want to be. Let's get up, and let's get to work.

Chodesh Tov (wishing you a good new month),

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum