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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Preparing for a Spiritual Marathon

This was a D'var Torah presented this week at Kehillat Israel's morning minyan.

The Boston Marathon won't be coming to Boston this year. It didn't come in April and it won't be coming in September. Still though, we are heading toward a different type of marathon, a spiritual marathon which comes from the beginning of the month of Elul. Elul is a month of spiritual preparation for Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur which we will celebrate in just a few weeks. Just as a person prepares for sporting event such as the Boston Marathon, Elul serves as a spiritual training ground for spiritual sport. The sounding of the shofar in the early morning marks the beginning of this period. At the congregation that my husband and I have attended for years, the Sephardic Congregation of Newton (Beit Sasson), the Tefillah now begins at 6:00 AM each morning so that S'lichot can be recited in tunes that are both mesmerizing and beautiful. As Elul progresses this gives us the opportunity to focus inwardly at ourselves as we approach the holiday that deals not with our physical self but our souls.

What a wonderful thing that Parshat Kit Teitzeh arrives when it does, just as we approach the season of deep introspection. Over the course of this parsha we read numerous laws dealing with ethical behavior between people. Although the gamut is much more expansive that what I mention in this D'var Torah, there are a number of ethical laws focus in specifically on the quality of mercy. I took a few minutes to compile a list which is divided between laws that demand our mercy and laws where are told not to show mercy. In Ki Teitzei we learn that an unloved wife, a corpse, a wide variety of animals, certain unprotected females, Egyptians, Edomites, widows, slaves, the needy, the needy laborer, the stranger and the orphan all deserve our mercy. On the other hand, people who don't follow the laws governing marriage and some sexual conduct, or one who kidnaps a Jewish person deserve no mercy. Also noted is that an Ammonite or a Moabite deserves no mercy because they showed no mercy.

It is an interesting exercise to divide laws into the dos and the don'ts, those deserving of mercy and those not deserving mercy. It's harder to take those laws and apply them to our own Elul souls, to our own spiritual training during the month of Elul. Deep within each of us we have our own a mercy quotient, our own ability to feel empathy, to show empathy, to put ourselves in the shoes of those of should be shown mercy. It is the easy road to avoid reflecting upon our own mercy quotient. It is easier to read it as words written in ink who remain unknown categories, instead of real people with real lives. Elul is not an easy time, and like the preparation for a sporting event, it can be challenging. Rewards are meted out just a little at a time and training takes real discipline and resolve. Like a physical sporting event, rewards don't come easily. Elul is the time to prepare for a marathon of the heart, to reach deep within us and spiritually train ourselves to show mercy, to feel mercy and real empathy. The words I am speaking today are to encourage all of us who are sitting in this room not just to skim over the many ethical rules detailed in Parshat Ki Teitzeh, but to choose one or two and apply them to your own Elul mercy quotient. Let us use this month not to run past the words but instead to do the hard work of traveling into our souls. Try to find a thought in this parsha and apply it to your lives. Let the words on the page come alive to you. Give the words a name, and identity and once that is done, reflect and try to do it better. We can all do better. We're all in this training together; it's time to begin. We get to that marathon one step at a time, each step bringing us closer to the goal.


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