What Should I Ask For?

By Rabbi Anne Ebersman

One Elul tradition that has become an important part of my spiritual preparation for the Yamim Nora’im is reading Psalm 27 every morning. When I was starting rabbinical school, I was very excited about the idea that during Elul, we are supposed to be taking an accounting of our souls (חֶשְׁבּוֹן נֶפֶשׁ); I started enthusiastically reading Psalm 27 daily on the assumption that it would teach me how to do that. I was disappointed with what I found.What did King David worrying about his enemies attacking him have to do with my own spiritual renewal?  Why couldn’t the rabbis have picked a more user-friendly instruction manual for self-examination?

Over the years, I have let go of my insistence that Psalm 27 must give me what I want, and I have been able to listen more carefully to what it actually has to offer. Every Elul is different. Some years, I am drawn to אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-יְהוָה (I only ask one thing of You, God). I ask myself, if I could pray and ask and yearn for only one thing, one single thing, what would it be? This question has proven to be very clarifying.

This year, I have been focusing on the phrase הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה, דַּרְכֶּךָ  (Teach me, God, Your way) as my guide throughout month of Elul, setting the intention to discover what I am being called to do in the year to come.

There is still time left in Elul. I highly recommend reading Psalm 27. There is a lovely, non-theological translation by the Jewish Buddhist monk Norman Fischer for those that find God language alienating. Don’t expect it to answer all your questions about how to do the work of teshuvah. But if you open your ears and your heart, unexpected insights may emerge. I would be happy to hear what you find.

Rabbi Anne Ebersman

Rabbi Ebersman is the Director of Jewish Programming and the Director of Hesed and Tzedek (Community Service and Justice) at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School.   She is a longtime BJ member and is the proud mother of two BJ teens.