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Rabbi's Column

A Dwelling Place for the Heart

By Rabbi Janet Marder

V’Ahavta for Elul

You shall love the ones who are close
with all your heart,
with all your spirit,
with all your strength.

Remember these words; inscribe them on your heart:
love them when they struggle,
when they sadden and disappoint you;

love them when they fail.
See the good within them, even when they can’t.
Look at them, and listen, even when it’s hard.
Be grateful for their guidance (even their reproof)
when they save you from yourself.

Love them when they give you joy,
and love them when they don’t.
When you lie down, let go of anger.
When you rise up at dawn, begin again.

Praise them for their deeds at home;
speak to them in public with respect.
Bind yourself to the ones you love
with promises kept and vows fulfilled.

Open to them the gates of your heart, the doorway of your soul—
    and let them know you.
So shall the ones you cherish feel your love, your presence, and your care.

                       --from Mishkan HaLev: Prayers for S’lichot and the Month of Elul (CCAR, 2017)

For the past two years, my husband and I have been working on a new prayerbook for the month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days. We developed an entirely new liturgy for all the Friday nights in Elul, and also for S’lichot, the beautiful candlelight service on the Saturday night preceding Rosh Hashanah.

We decided to call the book Mishkan HaLev, which means “a dwelling place for the heart,” because we realized that its central concern is the condition of our hearts as we approach the Days of Awe. For the Hebrew Bible, the heart (lev) is the seat of both intelligence and emotion, as well as the will that determines action. Perhaps the closest equivalent to “lev” in our contemporary vocabulary is “the inner self.”

Shelly and I hope that Mishkan HaLev* will inspire, as the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book says, “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of our hearts in these weeks leading up to the season of teshuvah – repentance and return. How strong and open are our hearts? How are they blocked by deposits of resentment, anger, sadness, fear or shame? Are we experiencing troubling symptoms – lack of energy, anxiety, pain, dizziness or confusion? Are we feeling breathless and overwhelmed? Are our thoughts, feelings and actions in healthy alignment with our ideals? How well are we able to love the ones who are close, or bring closer the ones from whom we’ve drifted away?  

Elul, said our Sages, is the season of love – a time to draw closer to the significant people in our lives, to reconnect with our best selves and to open ourselves to the God who summons us to a better life. Shana tovah umetuka! The Marder family sends heartfelt wishes to you and those you love for a sweet and joyous new year.

*From Friday night, August 25 to Saturday night, September 16, we’ll be praying from Mishkan HaLev: Prayers for S’lichot and the Month of Elul.

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