Oceans and Rivers: Entering Elul and navigating the rough waters of our lives

The high holidays end with a dramatic focus on water in the form of rain. Jonah finds in the depths of water a renewed sense of God’s patience and love. However, for me the holidays begin with water too. Every year I remember a water lesson that I learned thirty years ago in the month of Elul. 

I was in the middle of the grand canyon in the Colorado river on a raft for five days and I was struggling very hard to follow our 19 year old guide’s instructions.

At one point he looked and me said “Rabbi, I think that you misunderstand where you are. You are not in the ocean…you are on the river. In the ocean you must not lose your way so you learn how to read the stars, you plot your course and stay focused on where you must go.

“On the river there are rocks to avoid, but you cannot fight with the river. You must release yourself to it and let it take you where it is going.”

Much of our work at Eshel is shaped by a careful discernment between thoughtful planning in uncharted waters on one hand–and by gently responding to a process that we do not control, one that unfolds in relationship, on the other hand.

This year may we all learn to discern well to navigate the rough waters of our lives, the waves, and the rapids. May we learn when to direct, and when to release, when to seek pragmatic knowledge and when to rely on calming wisdom. We look forward to celebrating together, rejoicing in community with each other and with the Holy One who brings us up from the depths, mimaamakim, and helps us in various ways, to find our way home.

Shana Tova!

Rabbi Steve Greenberg