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Earth Etude for Elul 28 — Swimming in Circles in Life

by Rabbi Judy Kummer

~ Every August I participate in a 1-mile breast cancer fundraising swim at a pond on Cape Cod. I have done this swim every year since 2007, training each summer day to swim further and faster. 

I especially delight in swimming outdoors. Sometimes my practice swims are in daytime, sometimes at “golden hour” as the sun is setting,  and sometimes at dusk, when I can watch the moon rising, cycling inexorably through its phases towards the High Holidays. 

What a feast for the senses:  I find myself savoring the sunlight spangling the pond where I swim or the glorious sunset colors spreading out over my head. I note the lovely contrasts of tanned arms, gilded by sunlight, reaching toward deep blue sky before slicing down into clear water, feeling the health and strength in my limbs and heart.   Each time I step into the water and swim out and away, by the end of the swim I end up coming back to the same place on the shore– – but somehow, when I return, the place seems different. Perhaps it is just a change of my perception or perspective— or perhaps it is I who have changed in some way. 

Each time I step into the water and swim out and away, by the end of the swim I end up coming back to the same place on the shore– – but somehow, when I return, the place seems different. Perhaps it is just a change of my perception or perspective— or perhaps it is I who have changed in some way.

As we move through the Jewish month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we are taught to examine our lives and our deeds. We are encouraged to do Teshuvah, to repent or return, to turn and return toward being our best selves, toward being the selves we wish we could be in life. While we may find ourselves coming back to “home base” and to the familiar at times, it is as if we are swimming in circles through our lives, ever aiming at improving and transforming ourselves —so that it is virtually a different self that comes back to the place from which we had we set out.

The end of the season of summertime warmth approaches, and the days begin to grow shorter. We become more aware of the shortness of time — in this season, and in our lives.

Time grows short. Life is short, time is limited, the time for us to make changes in ourselves and in our lives is now. May the circles we travel through in life bring our renewed and renewing selves to ever-brighter shores.

Rabbi Judith Kummer is a board-certified chaplain and Program Leader for the Community Chaplaincy Initiative at Hebrew SeniorLife. A Boston native, she earned a BA from Barnard College in Environmental Studies and Urban Planning and was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. Rabbi Kummer is an avid organic gardener, liturgist, teacher and social activist.

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