"Jacob's Ladder," a Chagall oil on canvas
"Jacob's Ladder," a Chagall oil on canvasCourtesy of Tiroche Auction House

“Why do I live, why do I die?

Why do I laugh, why do I cry”

This is the SOS

Of an earthling in distress

I’ve never had my feet on the ground

I'd rather be a bird

…I feel something

That draws me

That draws me

That draws me upward

…I’ve never had my feet on the ground

If ever it were more beautiful

More beautiful seen from above

If ever it were more beautiful”

(SOS of an Earthling in Distress, Dimash Kudaibergen)

It is the month of Elul.

And I find myself in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city of enchantment, of dreams, of the eternal aspirations of our people.

As in a dream, I wander through the magical streets. Not sure where my feet are going, I allow them to guide me. Stone walls are aglow with the mystical ambience of Jerusalem, warmed by the radiance of the setting sun. The sun’s rays reflect on the cobblestone path at my feet, shimmering in golden softness.

Echoes of voices of age-old chants mingle with the sounds of prayers from a synagogue as I pass by. A mother comforts her crying child. I cannot understand why she is crying, in this place of beauty and holiness, and yet…Redemption has not yet arrived, but its coming is imminent.

Many years ago, I was fortunate to study at the University in Jerusalem. For years afterward, while living in New York, my soul remained in Jerusalem. In a dream at night, I walked the outer walls of the Old City, inevitably drawn toward the Kotel.

And now I wonder, am I awake, or again dreaming?

My sister joins me. My beloved sister, whom I have not seen for years, separated as we were by distance and travel restrictions. And now here we are, wandering together about the streets of Jerusalem.

It is that time of day when heaven meets earth, when sun and moon may be seen at once. The night and the day, the mundane and the sacred, the despair and the hope, blend into one. Flickering lights are about to light up our path.

We hear the soft murmur of voices, of music. The prayers of our people, the blessings, the hopes and dreams, the songs. The very stones are about to sing, as the sun sets and the city is alight with a rosy hue.

And then I heard, floating on air as if in a dream, a voice and a guitar echoing the song of my heart.

A song that reflects the belief of our nation for generations.

“It is written in the holy Torah:

I will conceal Myself on that day

But Rebbe Nachman explains:

Even in a concealment within a concealment, the Lord, may He be blessed, is certainly there.

Even through the hard times that befall you, I stand (with you).”

(lyrics: Deuteronomy 31:18, Rabbi Nachman, Likutei Moharan 1:56 Music: Shaya Gross)

The words of faith, of unswerving hope. Even in a concealment within a concealment. Even in the place where we no longer find hope, where we do not even see that hope may be hidden, there hope may be found. Exactly there may be found the grace, the beauty, the touch of the Divine that we so long for.

We have just emerged from the month of Av. The month in which the covenant between God and His people was broken, and God’s presence was as if concealed from us.

”As though I did not see (them) in their distress.” (Rashi, Deuteronomy (31:18)

And now, in the month of Elul, we enter a different time. A time of increased awareness, of introspection, of hope for change. Reminiscent of the words of Job:

“He reveals mysteries from the darkness, and brings the deep darkness into light.” (Job, 12:22)

In preparation for the Days of Awe, Elul is the month of soul-searching. During this month, we feel God’s presence closer to us.

Rather than being in concealment, the Divine Presence is almost palpable.

According to the Kabbalah, the month of Elul is associated with Binah (both have a gematria of 67), which is knowledge and understanding. Through understanding, our thoughts and will may be redirected so as to reflect the Divine Will.

“Lest they, seeing with their eyes, and hearing with their ears, and understanding with their heart, Return, and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:10)

One day, the world will be perfected. Ignorance replaced by knowledge, pain by joy. But perhaps it is our role even now, in this world of imperfection, to find within ourselves understanding and acceptance. Rather than asking of God ‘Why?’, we will ask of ourselves ‘How?’. How can we transform pain into acceptance of the will of the Lord. How can we find meaning and happiness in a world of imperfection. How can we partner with God toward making the world a better place.

As Rosh Hashanah approaches we ask of ourselves, what will we do differently this year? How can we fill the new year with meaning, with purpose, with holiness? What will we do this year to make life even more beautiful?

We walk a bit further, my sister and I. Within a darkened cave by our side, is a white dove. Seemingly out of place. But perhaps she has come down now to remind us. We can soar only as high as we are capable of. But there is a white dove waiting for us along our path to carry our spirits to new heights.

It is the month of Elul, and it is time. For our spirits to soar upward.

For our feet to remember in which direction they wish to walk.

As we approach The Days of Awe, may our hearts always be open to hear the song by our side, on the path upon which we are walking. The music of enchantment. May we hear the song of one another.

May our steps be blessed, may our path lead us toward Jerusalem, toward life.

May the beauty as seen from above, find an echo in our hearts, and in our lives.

If ever it were more beautiful.

May the New Year be blessed.

Dr. Devorah Ungar is an American-born scientist and musician.who moved to Israel 30 years ago.