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Lost Together

The Hebrew month of Elul began on Sunday, August 8th. According to Jewish tradition this day begins a forty-day period of introspection and repentance that concludes with the beautiful Yom Kippur Neilah service.

We belong to a remarkable tradition. We believe that human beings are capable of change. We believe that we have the capacity to mend our ways. No one is perfect. All have erred. Let us take these precious days to mend our failures. This is the grand purpose of the upcoming High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah begins the evening of September 6th. (Yes, this is early and very soon.)

A Hasidic story that I learned from Rabbi Rami Shapiro. Reb Chaim Halberstam of Zanz once helped his disciples prepare for Elul and its goals of teshuvah (repentance) and tikkun (repair) by sharing the following tale.

Once a woman became lost in a dense forest. (Obviously this was before the advent of Google Maps.). She wandered this way and that in the hope of stumbling on a way out, but she only got more lost as the hours went by. Then she chanced upon another person walking in the woods. Hoping that he might know the way out, she said, “Can you tell me which path leads out of this forest?”

“I am sorry, but I cannot,” the man said. “I am quite lost myself.”

“You have wandered in one part of the woods,” the woman said, “while I have been lost in another. Together we may not know the way out, but we know quite a few paths that lead nowhere. Let us share what we know of the paths that fail, and then together we may find the one that succeeds.”

“What is true for these lost wanderers,” Reb Chaim said, “is true of us as well. We may not know the way out, but let us share with each other the way that have only led us back in.”

Together we are always stronger. Together we can find ourselves out of any difficulty and surmount any stumbling blocks. This year, most especially we need walk together. The path out of the forest still remains unclear, but at the very least we can wander alongside one another and be buoyed by friendship and community.