Preparing our Hearts and Souls for the Coming High Holy Days while Thinking about the People in our Lives Where We “Dwell”

This post on If Not Now, When?, the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, is shared by Rabbi Joshua Caruso as we approach the High Holy Days.

Each year, during the month of Elul, we revisit Psalm 27, a reminder of the tenuous of life, vulnerability, and our reach towards holiness.

The most memorable verse of this Psalm goes like this:

One thing have I asked of God, that I will seek after:
That I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life,
To behold the graciousness of God, and to visit early in God’s temple.

At a close reading, there is an apparent tension in that one verse. First, the author seeks to “DWELL” in the house of God “all the days of my life.” However, immediately afterwards, the author submits that he would like to “VISIT early in God’s temple.” One might ask how the author can both Dwell and Visit in the very same place!

I may have just discovered the answer for myself in one of America’s most famous parks.

Earlier this month, the Caruso family visited my mother in New York City, a place where I used to dwell. In some ways, I know New York City very well, especially Central Park. There is Strawberry Fields, close to where I went to high school, the Ramble, with its beautiful woodland landscapes, the familiar children’s Carousel, and the ballfields where my dad used to hit hard grounders to me on Sunday afternoons. Central Park is certainly a part of me.

And even though I lived and breathed life in the big city in my early years, sometimes I still feel like a visitor when I discover new surprises in my old stomping grounds.

This past trip my mom introduced me to the Central Park Conservatory Garden, a place I have passed by many a time. The Conservatory Garden is a gem on the Upper East Side, only blocks from where I grew up, where I dwelled. There are beautiful fountains and sculptures, and gorgeous flowers and foliage. My visit there reminded me that no matter how much you think you know a place there is always more to learn.

Central Park came alive for me again.

Dwelling and visiting, can be a state of mind, too. Sometimes our routines become so rote and predictable that we become inured to the beauty all around us. If we only listen to the same songs, follow the same routes, and relate to the same people, we miss out on the surprises all around us practically beckoning us to make a visit to them.

In this month of Elul, the month when we prepare our hearts and souls for the coming High Holy Days, we can also think about the people in our lives where we “dwell”. We might think we know our partner, our spouse, our lover, and our kids, but sometimes we are unable to remember to spend time with them in “visit” mode to discover the surprises they no doubt can offer us.

To “Dwell” implies a permanence, where “Visit” suggests something new, unique, and even special.

When we spend time with others we know well, and open ourselves up to new ways of knowing them, we can both dwell among them AND make surprise visits of newfound discovery of the holiness that also dwells within them.

This is what is meant in Psalm 27 when it says:

One thing have I asked of God, that will I seek after:
That I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life,
To behold the graciousness of God, and to visit early in God’s temple.

During this month of Elul, let us think on the ways we might see the familiar with new eyes, with a new heart, and a new understanding.

Let’s be like tourists in our own back yards for the most spectacular staycation of our lives, and let our hearts be opened to renewed love.

(Thank you, Rabbi Adam Starr, for the inspiration)