searching for the right key for my spiritual tune-up

tune up (v.)

“bring to a state of effectiveness,” 1718, in ref. to musical instruments, from tune (v.) + up. Attested from 1901 in ref. to engines. Tune-up (n.) “event that serves as practice for a later one” is a U.S. sporting coinage first attested 1934.

I never knew that there was such a thing as an online etymology dictionary, until I looked…

I don’t know very much about cars, nor musical instruments, for that matter. I know you need to service all your tools, especially ones with engines, on a regular basis in order to maintain effective service. And why not the body, too? Regular check-ups, and all that? So what about our souls?

I thought of this term over Shabbos, when I realized I really really need one, a spiritual tune-up. And I realized that’s what Ellul is, a time built-in to the calendar so that we get ourselves checked up and tuned up. And then I realized how the term itself is so indicative to what we need, going back to the early meaning of music, that is. For so many reasons, we need to use that definition.

I did, of course, look to see who else uses this term, and guess what? I’ll let you know that Google had no problem finding thousands and thousands. There were a few interesting things about them. Most were from another religion, to begin with. But that’s not a problem. Good for them. (Although one site, which you notice I’m not linking for you, said that it was because of his 4 year old granddaughter who said that Christians are just like cars; they need tune-ups, too.)

But the Jewish ones were all (that I found) were all just throwing the term around.

Don’t you need a spiritual tune-up? Come here to me and I’ll give you one!

Or a little less snake oil, but pretty much the same note as that.

Here’s one great shining example of the contrast of approaches to the time we’re in (in the time we’re in):

Most people wouldn’t dare run a marathon without training, and yet many Jews show up for synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — a religious marathon of sorts — without so much as running a metaphorical mile in preparation.

“Your effort is directly related to your result. If all you do is show up and sit there passively, well, why would you think you’d get something out of that?” said Rabbi Shalom Bochner of Santa Cruz Hillel.

“So many people say, ‘The holidays didn’t mean anything to me.’ And I say, ‘Well, what did you do to make them meaningful?'”…

Before the Jewish New Year begins at sundown Wednesday, Sept. 12 [this was from 2007–this year we get to drei around until the 28th], consider asking yourself: What can I do differently this year to make the High Holy Days mean something?

“The High Holy Days can either be a meaningless activity we endure, or something that adds an incredible depth to the day, the season and hopefully our whole lives,” Bochner said. “I prefer to think of it as a spiritual tune-up for our whole existence, not an exercise in counting pages.”…

Bay Area rabbis and educators stress that there is no right or wrong way to prepare for the holidays — what matters most is finding something that’s personally meaningful.

“There is such a wide range of Jewish expression. Go and resample the salad bar of Jewish life, and try a different dish this time,” Bochner said.

Josh Strulowitz, rabbi at the Modern Orthodox Adath Israel in San Francisco, recommends simply reading the prayer book before the holidays. Understanding the prayers on a deeper level will inspire introspection, he said.

“For some people, it’s really important to ask questions: What is my relationship with HaShem? What’s holding me back from having that relationship? What questions do I want to ask God?” Strulowitz said.

Prayer not for you? No big deal.

Bochner of Santa Cruz points to a friend who, every Yom Kippur, goes on an all-day hike — fasting the entire time — and then jumps into the Pacific when the sun begins to set.

Got the contrast? Me, I’m with Strulowitz, pretty much. But I did order a new mahzor, the Koren Rosh Hashanah Mahzor, with commentary by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Here’s what one reviewer says there on the Amazon page:

Many Jews use the siddur and mahzor to pray, but the Hebrew word for prayer is tefillah, which is based on a root that means “to judge oneself.” Prayer in Judaism is more than a petition to God, the basic meaning of the Latin and Greek word upon which “prayer” is based. It is a time of reflection, of inner judgment, of considering change and improvement. By incorporating the wide spectrum of views into the siddur, the rational and the mystical, the old and relatively new, Jews are capable, if they understand the prayers, to reflect on what is being said, the history of their religion, the concerns of its adherents, see if and how the prayers relate to their lives, and ask themselves whether the prayer they are reading can help them develop themselves and improve society.

That sounds just right. And that is what I propose that I start my spiritual tune-up, by aligning myself with my people, my ancestors, my G-d.

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