Leaves are drifting down. Brown, curled from edge to spine and letting go of their grasp on the twigs to fall earthward, they seem to be hurrying to get out of the way before the gale blows.
If they drop gently, they land nearby. The wind might pick them up and redistribute them, but they’ll stay close to their tree source. If the wind picks up, they’ll blow fast and far.
I can’t help wondering what gale imposes its influence on the leaves of this elm tree, what wind is gathering to force the leaves into exile. I can’t help seeing it as a reflection of a mental state of dissatisfaction, of fear. I wonder if it’s hatred and hatred of hatred.
Above all, perhaps it’s worry, worry that this is not the place we want it to be, regardless of who we are and what we wanted, fear that we’re not wanted and that we can’t have what we need. I sense it as distrust of anyone who disagrees on any topic. Do leaves experience themselves as us vs. them, each of us sure we’re on the side of righteousness and they are the enemy?
Yes, I’m projecting. The leaves are leaves, which every fall let go and drift. There is, nonetheless, a strong sense that a dangerous gale is brewing, and it’s brewing just now as we turn towards the New Year and our inner selves.
The Torah reading with which September begins, Parashat Ki Tetsei, opens, “When you go out into battle against your enemies….” I’d like to suggest, especially now, that enemies are not only out there, but that when we see animosity in the other; it’s reflecting our inner animosity and when we see anger, evil and hatred, it calls up our own. These, too, are enemies. These are the very enemies that this season of introspection calls us to find, face down and vanquish.
I’ll call them our demons – assumptions about righteousness and otherness, fear of the other, disgust that becomes a wall blocking compassion, compassion that fails to hold evil accountable. As we pray the prayers begging forgiveness, tracing our own failings through lists of sins, we face our weaknesses. This is the beginning of redemption, when we face and admit the ugliness we carry. Only when we acknowledge it can we begin to rub it away.
Following Parashat Ki Tetsei come passages about entering the land of promise. This is where we are, this month, facing our demons and preparing to enter a time of holiness. The path begins in facing the demons within, and then facing them down so we can rise.
L’shanah tovah, may you embark on a year of blessing.
(Rabbi Laura Metzger lives in Louisville.)
(Shabbat candles in October should be lit on the following nights: September 29, 7:09; October 6, 6:59; October 13, 6:48; October 20, 6:39; October 27, 6:30.)