One of my most precious possessions is a copy of the Talmudic tractate Kiddushin printed in Munich in 1946 on presses once used for Nazi propaganda.
A Talmud printed on an erstwhile Nazi printing press is a powerful symbol of our privilege to use our time, our talent and our material resources to help replant vibrant, progressive Jewish learning and living in the places where the Nazis tried to destroy them.
In this volume (page 40B) we find one of the most uplifting of rabbinic teachings whose message is particularly appropriate during the last month of the year, the month of Elul: Each of us should see ourselves as half innocent and half guilty, as though our good deeds and our bad deeds completely balance one another. If we then commit one good deed, we tip the scales in our favor!
What a marvelous metaphor! How wonderful a place would our world become if each of us went through life committed to making our next deed a good one.
My late and beloved Ulpan teacher in Israel, Sarah Rothbard, used to say, “It is not just a gift for Jews that we created a Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the forty-day period (starting at the beginning of the month of Elul) leading up to it. It is a gift for all humanity.
Most of us were not given the talent to cure cancer or bring about peace in the world. But we each have talents and abilities
Our goal—particularly during the days of Elul—is to ask ourselves, “What particular talents and abilities do we possess? Are we using them only for our own enrichment and enjoyment? Or do we—and if not can we—find ways to use these gifts for the benefit of others?”
Without doubt these are hard questions.But if each of us grapples with them seriously, we will leave future generations with a better world.