MaharatCast Episode 2
Rabba Dina Brawer
Class of 2018
Welcome to Maharatcast, my name is Rabba Dina Brawer, and I am delighted to be your host for this Elul mini-series.
The month of Elul is described by the chassidic masters as a time of מלך בשדה
when God is more accessible, like a king who left his guarded palace to stroll in the wide open fields. For this Elul mini-series I invited rabbinic colleagues and students at Maharat,
to share with us the particular place that is their ‘שדה’ - their field, where they find God most approachable, and where they feel connected to the Divine. A place that ignites their own process of Teshuva, their own journey of return.
Together, in 5 short episodes, we will explore some of these journeys. I hope that listening along will inspire you, this Elul, as you embark on your own journey of Return.
–Sound of Shofar–
Miriam Lorie has a decade of experience working in inter-faith dialogue and in community leadership training. She comes to Maharat after studying Torah at Pardes and Midreshet Harova in Jerusalem, and earning a degree in Theology & Religious Studies from Cambridge University. Her love for Torah finds expression in teaching bnei mitzvah and engaged couples, as a BBC radio Pause for Thought contributor, and in serving as Rabbi in Training for Kehillat Nashira in London, UK.
--ki anu amecha niggun--
Ki anu amecha, an ashkenaz piyut for Yom Kippur, describes a series of relational models for God and the Jewish People.
‘Ki anu tzonecha ve ata roenu and anu rayatech ve ata dodenu
From ‘we are your flock and you are our shepherd’ to ‘we are your bride and you are our lover’ In her Elul journey, Miriam reframes her own relationship with god, setting aside the image of god as monarch, for that of an encouraging coach.
–outdoor nature sounds - birds - breeze–
I’d always explored my local park and some of the wooded paths surrounding it, but that was quite enough for my 20 minute weekly jog. More recently though, I’ve tried to step up my effort and push myself a bit.
And so one day, I ran further than ever before.
–background birds tweeting–
I discovered a network of woodland, open orchard-like fields, and little surprises all around: the sound of the woodpecker, a tunnel made of hedges which just kept growing until they met overhead, where caterpillar chrysalis hang on silky threads for a week or two before presumably hatching into butterflies and disappearing. There is a wooded stretch carpeted with bluebells in May - heralding the start of the summer. There’s a golf course which I’d heard was there but had never reached until that day, where poplar trees cast long, elegant shadows over the abandoned perfect grass.
Then on the other side of the golf course, there is a field. A field which looks so picture perfect that you could be in the heart of the English countryside, gently sloping, with a little spire adorning the horizon.
–sound of running–
This field began to represent my challenge zone. I could easily complete a nice circular run turning around at the gold course. Or I could attempt the field extension. And if I complete it, can I run it without slowing to a walk? Can I breathe through the pain which kicks in at just this moment?
The first Elul of running in this field, I was reminded of the Chassidic teaching that in Elul המלך בשדה God is more accessible, like a monarch who left the palace to stroll in the fields.
But this field is no bucolic pastoral scene from a 19th Century painting, with charming farmers surprised to be graced by a Monarch. It may look beautiful but it’s where I’m extended and pushed to my limit. It’s where gentle panting gives way to full on red-faced huffing and puffing.
So I started to understand the מלך בשדה as a God who sees us in all our red-faced, trying-hard-sometimes-failing humanity. And not only who sees us, but is there with us in our challenge zone, willing us forward.
–ki anu amecha niggun–
There is something so humble about this image of God - less of a figure of judgment from above and more of a coach by my side in that field. There is something quite vulnerable in being a Jew who looks to this Coach God for support. This God sees me red-faced and sweaty, but can also appreciate the effort I put in to push myself this far.
–ki anu amecha–
This message extends to matters ultimately more important than running. In Elul, when God is close to us in the metaphorical field, will I run as far as the field? Whether my challenge zone “field” is doing the right thing with learning, work or relationships, I could easily tarry in the wooded paths or the manicured golf course, taking the easy route. Will I choose to extend myself? And to be clear, I don’t mean workaholic self-drive. I mean being our best possible selves.
And then if I make it to the field, if I extend myself, will I choose to see the Divine Coach at my side? Will I let God - the Coach God - into my life and greatest challenges this Elul?
–ki anu amecha–
Because the מלך that we crown on Rosh Hashanah is not just the lofty God on high, but is also right here at my side, witnessing my sweat and effort to be my best self and willing me onwards in the right direction. Like the best of coaches, the מלך believes in me.
–ki anu amecha–