Rosh Chodesh Elul begins Saturday, Sept. 3, and revolves around teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah.
Teshuvah is more than repentance. It’s turning away from negative choices and returning to our inner spark of goodness. Tefillah, beyond prayer, reconnects us to G-d. Tzedakah, rather than charity, is an obligation to give to others.
Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte is on my mind. He provides a case study before we turn the search inward. In Elul, we explore our own dark recesses to see where we’ve missed the mark. It’s not my place to judge Lochte, but within my own thoughts, I have.
I feel ashamed for him, disappointed and angry. He represented our United States and his family. I imagine the intense pride they must’ve felt in previous years when he became a 12-time Olympic medalist (six gold, three silver and three bronze), ranking him second behind Michael Phelps. I consider how embarrassed and upset they must be because of his poor decisions and unacceptable behavior that were broadcast around the world.
Lochte, 32, has two older sisters and two younger brothers. What was it like for them the day of the breaking news?
Lochte learned to swim when he was 5 years old. His dad, a swim coach, reportedly said that he’d kick his son out of class and send him to the showers for misbehaving and that Ryan spent more time in the shower than in the pool. Misbehaving back then meant pulling other children’s legs, blowing bubbles and hiding at the far end of the pool.
I felt angry with Lochte for taking a gift from G-d and misusing the power that it brought. I was saddened by his lack of discipline with regard to the alleged vandalism, dishonesty, cowardice and perhaps also entitlement.
In a written apology, he referred to his own actions as “immature.” Who among us has not done something immature in our lives? But while he represented our country, himself and his family, this went beyond immature.
His actions cost him not only his character, but also millions of dollars in endorsements. Speedo withdrew, as did Ralph Lauren, Gentle Laser Hair Removal and the Japanese mattress company Airweave. There will likely be sanctions from the Olympic committee.
It’s sad to think that people will no longer refer to him as “second to Phelps” and instead will talk about “the one who made false claims of being robbed at gunpoint in Rio.”
I find myself wishing that Lochte could have a Yom Kippur in which to meditate, atone, heal, turn from his actions and realign with G-d.
I ask for forgiveness in judging him. In the meantime, the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation) helps us delve more deeply into our own introspection.
Elul’s Hebrew letter is yud, zodiac sign is Virgo, tribe is Gad, sense is action, and controlling limb is the left hand.
Yud is the smallest letter of the aleph-bet, much as we are in the presence of G-d. Virgo is represented by the unblemished purity of the virgin. We must clean our slates with Hashem and our fellow humans to begin anew.
The tribe, Gad, means “luck” or “good fortune.” Its leaders were known as judges.
Action is the sense of Elul. The Virgo personality excels at attention to detail, required to carry out the rituals of observance.
The controlling limb is the left hand. It channels the energy of the future. What if we only tried to swim ahead using one hand? We wouldn’t get as far as with both. The right hand transmits the past. If neither is cleared, forward movement is impeded.
Meditation focus: Look back over the past year at private blunders, indiscretions, fibs and all things included in the recitation of the Vidui, the confessional prayer. How would it be for you if your mistakes were broadcast around the world? What does this teach you about yourself? What do you wish to turn away from? How can you realign yourself with Hashem? And what do you have that you can share with others?
May it be a sweet year and a year of peace.