Twice a day, I stop what I’m doing. If I am able, I gather with my community. Regardless, whether alone or with others, I say the prayer commonly referred to as “the shema”.
The literal, simple translation is “hear”. But of course, it’s more nuanced than that. It really implies “pay attention”, “focus”, or “be HERE, NOW!”. And once you understand that, the rest of the statement – “Hear, Israel, God is our Lord, God is One” becomes something of a rabbit hole.
Who am I speaking to, that I demand them to “pay attention!”? Myself? The rest of the people I’m standing with? The generations? Who is the “us” implied in “our”? Why do I even need to say this? What meaningful purpose does it serve?
These are, I must point out, not new or particularly novel questions. What I do find interesting, here in the month of Elul, is the implication it has for us both as people with strong religious, moral, and/or ethical points of view; and as IT practitioners.
To often we allow ourselves to hurtle pell-mell through our day. Alerts chime from the computers on our desks and in our pockets, demanding not only our attention but our action. That reactive behavior bleeds into our work, where we allow the crisis-du-jour to distract us from more strategic work that would, in fact, reduce or even remove the crisis du jour of tomorrow. And it even extends to our religious devotions, as we perform the actions and say the words of prayer while our mind is on a million other things.
Elul acts as a kind of month-long Shema” – doing for our year what the prayer does for our day: It offers an opportunity to recognize we’ve fallen into that cycle, and to use that – whether we get there through prayer or meditation or a moment of mindful quiet – and take stock of where we are, how we got here, and whether we’re OK with the pace of things. If we aren’t, that pause – both in the day and the year – affords us the chance to make the changes necessary so that we can be more effective, more proactive, and more fully ourselves.