If you're following me on #Twitter, you already know (read: might be super annoyed by the fact) that I am, at least for now, doing the Daf Yomi. If I manage to maintain it, it means that every day for the next 7.5 years, I will learn a daf (that's two sides of a page) of Talmud a day. That's a LOT of Aramaic, a LOT of picayune rabbinic detail, and--I hope--a lot of deep questioning and introspection.
One of my plans to maintain it is to get ahead when I can, so my Elul teaching for today, on return, actually comes from the daf that is assigned to Wednesday, August 22nd. The rabbis are engaged in a discussion of prayer--seems fitting for a tractate named for Blessings. One of the rabbis raises the question about a man (of course a man--more on that later, I am sure!) who has already prayed--meaning he has fulfilled his obligation to recite the Shema and the Amidah, which are central prayers of the Jewish prayer service. What happens, they ask, if he then walks into a synagogue and finds the community at the point of the service where they are reciting these prayers? Does he join in, or just sit there?
And this is one of those moment where I fall in love with Talmud all over again. Because in the midst of this somewhat specific, detail oriented question, they respond with a concept that just blows my mind. He can join in, they say, as long as he finds something new to add to his prayers.
The Hebrew month of #Elul began today. And one of its primary motifs is that of return. Returning to ourselves and returning to God. But, like the man who walks into synagogue hearing the words he has just spoken, I don't think we are being asked simply to return, to go back to what and who was. I don't think we CAN do that.
One of my teachers once described Jewish time as a spiral, not a circle. Yes, we come back to the same texts, the same holidays, the same questions--but we never come back to exactly the same place. We grow and we learn, we climb and sometimes we fall.
And so, I want to suggest for this #Elul that perhaps the rabbis words can inspire us too. We can join in, as long as we can find something new--something to learn, something to pray, something to become.
Marge Piercy, one of my favorite poets, writes the following:
Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue.
If you can't bless it, get ready to make it new.
Now is the time for return. Get ready to make it new.
For your listening pleasure.......