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some uncomplicated time

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some uncomplicated time

Written by  rabbi russ resnik

art-new-moonCould it be that we sometimes complicate our lives to avoid the simple, life-changing — and scary — encounter with the living God?

As we consider the middah of simplicity in this cycle, we are entering the month of Elul, traditionally a time of spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe that come in the following month, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. One tradition during this period is heshbon ha-nefesh, taking an account of ones soul. This practice requires withdrawal, quiet, and inner simplicity, which allows us to become aware of God’s presence and consider our lives from his perspective.

The Torah reading as we enter Elul is Re’eh, Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17, which opens, “Re’eh, behold, see, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.” The opening word is an imperative, better translated as “Look!” Rabbi Alan Lew comments accordingly:

“Look. Pay attention to your life. Every moment in it is profoundly mixed. Every moment contains a blessing and a curse. Everything depends on our seeing our lives with clear eyes, seeing the potential blessing in each moment as well as the potential curse, choosing the former, forswearing the latter.”[1]

“Pay attention to your life.” We would add, of course, pay attention to Hashem, the Lord of your life, before whom you ultimately give heshbon ha-nefesh, an account of your soul. And how does simplicity tie into all this?

First, because the command to look and pay attention is itself so simple. Deuteronomy often emphasizes the simplicity—not the easiness, but the simple clarity—of what God requires:

“And now, Israel, what does Hashem your God require of you, but to fear Hashem your God, to walk in all his ways and to love him, to serveHashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul…” --Deuteronomy 10:12

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” --ibid 30:11–14

Second, simplicity ties into this season because keeping things simple allows us to look at our lives from God’s perspective. When you are quiet, free from all the distractions and amusements of ordinary life, and alone with God, the condition of your soul becomes a lot more evident.

The problem, of course, is that such simplicity is hard to attain. But during Elul, and during our work with the middah of simplicity, we can at least visit it each day, whether briefly or for an extended stay, just by setting aside some time to be quiet and still, to focus on hearing God’s word and letting it overrule our own thoughts and perspectives.

Could it be that we complicate our lives to avoid such simple, life-changing—and scary—encounters with the living God? Spend some uncomplicated time in God’s presence and find out.


[1] Rabbi Alan Lew, This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. Boston, New York, London: Little, Brown, and Co., 2003.

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