A little Elul suffering is good for the soul
After Mt. Sinai, the Israelites spent forty years wandering in the desert. How does that compare to enduring 30 days of temperatures above 110°? July 2023 sure seemed to last 40 years. Perhaps the grueling heat was like that experienced in Sinai a few thousand years ago, but at least it’s a dry heat ? Just stay hydrated as you run from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office, and you’ll be fine.
It is too easy to pledge Teshuvah when you're comfortable. The Phoenix summer takes us out of the comfort zone, if only for a few minutes. Compared to nearly every other time in history, ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, we are supremely comfortable here in the Valley of the Sun, here in America, here in the 21st century. Yet our air-conditioned homes, well-stocked refrigerators, clean running water, one-click online shopping, safe streets and world-class medical care may have immunized us from empathy with the billions who have none of those things. None.
In his 1902 book, “Observations by Mr. Dooley,” the satirist Finley Paul Dunne wrote that the job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That role applies to Judaism and the High Holy Days as well. Here in the month of Elul, shortly before the beginning of the Yamim Noraim, we are afflicted in the midst of our comfort. Good. A little suffering is good for the soul, and may the sweltering heat make our Teshuvah all the more soulful.