Elulmain posts

Elul: You’ve Got a Place

The holy Ari, the greatest of the Kabbalists, taught a surprising allusion: The Torah says about a person who unintentionally kills someone, “And he did not intend, and God brought it to his hand, and I will put for you a place to where he can flee.”[1]

ְ ו הָאֱ-לֹהִים אִנָּה לְיָדוֹ וְשַׂמְתִּי לְךָ מָקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יָנוּס שָׁמָּה"  The letters in bold spell out the word, “Elul.” We learn from this that we all need a city of refuge to which to flee – and that city of refuge is the month of Elul!

A City of Refuge in Time

Why do we need a city of refuge? From whom are we supposed to flee? We certainly need to flee – from our sins, our bad habits, our mistakes and our missed opportunities, from our routine that we expedite without a thought. We’ve been traveling at high speed down the highway of life and without even noticing, we have run ourselves over. Hence, like a person who unintentionally killed someone else and finds a protected place where he can be rehabilitated, we all need a protected time, a safe place to park and re-calculate our route.

What do we need to do to make the month of Elul our city of refuge? First, the best spiritual city of refuge is the Torah. Elul is the time to reinforce our regular Torah study (which perhaps we have slightly ignored) to start a new subject of study and find a good study partner. The best place to do this is in a yeshiva, to breathe clean air in a pure place. Torah study, which is renewed in yeshivas in Elul after a short summer break, is a city of refuge. Even if a person has been out of the yeshiva for ages, he can join again for Elul, “to witness the pleasantness of God and to visit in His chamber.”[2]

A New Head Space

In another dimension, the concept “place” (makom) is a reference to God, “The Makom, blessed be He.” God is called “The Place” because He is “the place of the world.” At every moment, He provides all of creation with its existence and its place. Hence, when we are searching for a city of refuge, the best place to reach is God’s embrace, the most supportive and protected surrounding possible. But how do we get there?

We are not recommending imagination void of content, but rather, intentional work on our consciousness:  Guided thought, which will become second nature, by means of which we literally live in a Divine space, a city of refuge in our heads. We do this with the help of six unique mitzvahs that relate to Divine consciousness. As such, these mitzvahs are constant – we can and should fulfill them at every moment:

  • Faith in God – “I am Havayah, your God.[3]
  • Negation of faith in idol worship – “You shall not have other gods”[4]
  • Love of God – “And you shall love Havayah your God[5]
  • Fear of God – “And you shall fear your God[6]
  • Unification of God – “Hear o’ Israel…God is One[7]
  • Safeguarding against negative thoughts – “And you shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes[8].”

These mitzvahs create a “cube” of Divine consciousness from every direction:

  • Love of God is the right side of the consciousness cube, like an embracing right arm.
  • Fear of God is the left side of the consciousness cube, which balances the right and highlights the gap between them.
  • “Hear o’ Israel…God is One” is the front of the consciousness cube, in which we unify the entire great world in its Divine source.
  • “I am God” is the faith above us in the consciousness cube, in He who took us out of Egypt and gave us the Torah.
  • “You shall not have other gods” is the bottom of the consciousness cube, being careful not to worship any other force.
  • “And you shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes” is the back of the consciousness cube, which safeguards us from thoughts of lust that sneak into our minds through the “back door.”

(For a much more thorough explanation, see Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, “Living in Divine Space”

Happy Elul and wishing you much success in the city of refuge that renews the soul and builds Divine consciousness.

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

[1] Exodus 21:12.

[2] Psalms 27:4.

[3] Exodus 20:2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Deuteronomy 6:5.

[6] Leviticus 25:17.

[7] Deuteronomy 6:4.

[8] Numbers 15:39.

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