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Parsha Mitzvot Shofetim: Mitzvah 505 – Concept 52

“I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” (Song of Songs 6:4) At first glance it seemed that I was observing an actual Asheira – a tree dedicated as an idol – worshipper. Numerous colorful African scarves were wrapped around his head and body. He bowed to a tree (a not very impressive birch). Three circles, then twirling his arms in one direction then the other, lifting his knees high up in the air, followed each bow and then he bowed again and repeated the entire process.

But he was not an Asheira worshipper: he was performing his ritual stretches before running his laps.

His is not the most bizarre ceremony I see early each morning. One man walks backward with a strange balancing act from .75 – 1.2 of the marked lap.

One woman’s ritual consists of running a circle around each second trashcan. (And people say that I am strange!”

Even morning laps can be filled with Rituals and ceremonies.

Elul in Yeshiva was always a time of such rites and they worked effectively as triggers to prepare we incorrigible young men to regret all the horrible things we had done over the past year.

Rosh Chodesh began with “The Schmooze”: One of the rabbis would deliver a fire and brimstone speech describing the terrible fate that awaited boys such as us who did not repent.

Maariv – the evening service – immediately followed The Schmooze and took twice as long as usual. We poured out our hearts in prayer and repentance.

We would then go to each and every person in Yeshiva and beg forgiveness for the terrible ways we had mistreated them. We were so shaken and inspired that we would even beg forgiveness from the new students who were total strangers.

Some students eschewed ketchup and other such worldly condiments during Elul in order to purify themselves from any physical pleasures that had corrupted their souls. Other students wore suits and ties.

Pretty much everyone had his or her rituals and ceremonies for Elul.

As Woody Allen says, “Hey! Whatever works!”

Not for me: I cannot reconcile the verse of love that defines Elul with ritual and ceremony. I think of love as a constant process of discovery. Always fresh and new, free of all rituals and ceremony.

I do have one Elul ritual: I try to learn one new idea about God each day. I choose a different Mitzvah/Concepts on which to reflect and from which to distill a fresh approach to my relationship with God.

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