Get Down with Your True Self

While Stranger Things has been getting all the love this summer, don’t forget to also check out Netflix’s new show, The Get Down. The Baz Luhrmann series takes place in the South Bronx in the 1970’s and uses the “Bronx is burning” backdrop to tell a story about the rise of hip-hop, disco, and punk music while the city was nearing bankruptcy. Like Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, this series is a musical, using well-known songs and original lyrics to tell the story of preacher’s daughter Mylene Cruz (played by Herizen Guardiola) who just wants to sing disco instead of gospel and orphan Zeke Figuero (played by breakout start Justice Smith), a smart student that writes poetry and is introduced to the brand-new world of DJ’s and MC’s. While the show received mixed reviews and the first episode is long and slow, it is enjoyable for anyone who appreciates the origins of hip-hop, especially the influence of pioneer Grandmaster Flash. Plus, I’ll watch anything that involves Jimmy Smits. 

The backdrop is over the top in typical Baz Luhrmann fashion. The first season had a reported budget of $120 million, unheard of for a television series. And while Luhrmann went to great lengths and spent a great deal of money to make this backdrop of 1970’s New York look authentic, the backdrop is secondary to what the story of this show is really about.

The Get Down uses the backdrop of the 1970’s New York underground music scene to tell the story that we all feel – the story of a person being pulled in multiple directions. Mylene Cruz is a religious girl, growing up in a religious family. She is the daughter of a preacher who wants to sing disco music and wrestles with the tension between her family who stresses modesty and building an insular community for her and her desire to venture out into the secular world to land a record deal. 

The main character, Zeke Figuero, finds a way to hone his craft of poetry when he is introduced to the early underground world of hip-hop and partners with Shaolin Fantastic (played by Shameik Moore). He becomes his wordsmith, the newly minted MC that partners with the aspiring DJ. But he is also pressured to conform. As a smart young man, he is given the opportunity to intern for the city of New York, a shining example as a student in the struggling South Bronx who commutes into Manhattan to work in the mostly white city offices. When he is late for his first day, he dismisses it, suggesting that he instead wants to focus on his rap career. But his high school teacher, who sees his potential, challenges him, destroying “the idea that, if you’re smart and educated, you ain’t down and cool.” 

Both protagonists are pulled in opposite directions, pressured to conform, to fit into a certain box of societal expectations, based on their looks, dress, educational background, or family structure. But we find with both characters an attempt to not conform. Mylene wants to be remain a part of her religious family and still be a disco star. She doesn’t want to have to choose between one or the other. Books — Zeke’s nickname — is committed to his internship and his rap career, highlighted by the end of season one when he goes back and forth from a rally for mayoral candidate Ed Koch to a rap battle blocks away. He doesn’t want to have to choose between fitting into a certain box, having to be one person or the other. He wants to be both. And that is the positive message of Elul that we should learn this show as well.

We constantly feel pressure to conform. We are expected to fit into a certain box, based on our race or religion or gender identity, based on our careers, where we live, or how much money we have. Yet, the most important message of Elul is to stop trying to be something we are not. When we look inside ourselves and do Chesbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the self, we come to terms with who are are and whom we strive to be. We stop trying to be someone else. The goal of Elul is not to compare ourselves to others. The goal of Elul is to compare where we currently are with where we want to be. We look back on the resolutions we made and goals we set for ourselves at this time last year and see how far we have come and how far we still have to go. We have an opportunity in the new year to be our true selves, our authentic selves. That means not conforming. That means being comfortable interning for the city of New York during the day and rapping with MC’s at night — metaphorically speaking. We spend Elul getting down with our true selves. Look within yourself. Be comfortable with who you are. And share yourself with the world. 

The Get Down premiered on August 12, 2016. All episodes of part one of season one are available to stream now on Netflix. 

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Stranger Inclinations

Spoiler alert: Stranger Things has a monster which comes from the “Upside Down”, an alternative universe that a sinister government agency gained access to. Spoiler alert: Stranger Things has a psychokinetic preteen who can move things with her mind. Spoiler alert: Stranger Things pays homage to 80’s era horror, thriller, and suspense films including adding Winona Ryder to the cast. Spoiler alert: Stranger Things is incredible!

If there is one show you binge watch next, it must be Stranger Things. The show is fun and filled with 80’s pop culture nostalgia. And while there are plenty of unanswered questions and things that don’t make sense, the story works in 1980’s small town Indiana in a way that it wouldn’t work in 2016. 

Stranger Things, the breakout Netflix show of the summer, created by the Duffer brothers, tells the story of a group of middle school friends who go searching for their friend Will when he mysteriously disappears while riding his bike home from a friend’s house after a game of Dungeons & Dragons. During that search, they meet a young girl named Eleven who has special powers. With Eleven’s help, they realize that Will is stuck in the parallel universe of the Upside Down. The Upside Down isn’t an alternative reality. The kids, who are big Dungeons & Dragons fans, refer to it is the Vale of Shadows. This is not a what-if reality. Rather, it is a reflection of reality — what the world looks like if it was consumed by darkness and evil. 

Jewish tradition teaches that we each have within us a good inclination, a yetzer tov, and an evil inclination, a yetzer rah. The Mishnah even teaches that we begin with only our evil inclination, with a general ability to do wrong. Mishnah says that we only acquire a yetzer tov upon turning thirteen, explaining why when one becomes a bar or bat mitzvah, one is finally responsible for one’s own actions. 

It’s fascinating that rabbinic literature treats our good inclination and evil inclination as equals. They are essentially two sides of the same coin. While we strive to do good, we can just as easily end up feeding our evil inclination. In fact, if we have equal amounts of yetzer tov and yetzer rah within us, then it is nurture, not nature, that causes us to do good or bad. It is those whom we surround ourselves with that influence our actions, that impact whom we are, what we become, and how bright or bleak the world is. The Upside Down is not just scary because of the tar-like jelly within the dimension or the monster (or monsters! — stay tuned for season two) that lurk within it. The Upside Down is scary because it is a reminder of just how quickly our current reality can be turned upside down. It is a reminder of how easy it is for us to stray from light towards darkness, how easy it is for us to choose evil over good, and how easy it is for others to influence us to do wrong. 

In season two of Stranger Things, the Duffer brothers promise to further explore the Upside Down. While that may keep us on the edge of our seats, my hope is that we avoid accessing the Upside Down in our own lives. During the month of Elul so focused on reflection, may we reflect on the decisions that we have made — the positive choices and the mistakes — in hopes that we will create a bright future for ourselves and for the world. May we avoid the metaphorical Vale of Darkness in the year to come.

Stranger Things premiered on July 15, 2016. All episodes of season one are available to stream now on Netflix. 

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

A Biblical Back to the Future

While Elul, and the High Holy Day season as a whole, have come and gone, there are still lessons to be found in our Torah that connect and relate to Pop Culture, including a Pop Culture reference that is over twenty-five years old, and yet still relevant today! Here is my take on Back to the Future and Parashat Lech Lecha.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Returning is Not Hitting The Reset Button

While the month of Elul may be over, we still find great  meaning during these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, these Days of Repentance. This post about Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the Disney film Wreck-It Ralph is an example of whom we strive to become during these days. You can find the post here.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Let Our Own Actions Define Us

I enjoy binge-watching shows. Instead of waiting from week-to-week for the latest installment, binge-watching allows a viewer to appreciate the whole arc of a storyline all at once. My young daughter has a very different view on what binge-watching means. As a preschooler, the shows and movies she watches are limited so instead of binge-watching a season, she instead opts to watch the same thing over and over and over again.

Her latest obsession is Disney’s Descendants, a Disney Channel Original Movie that we stumbled upon while searching the On-Demand menu for some of her favorite cartoons. She was excited about the premise, as it focused on the children of her favorite fairy tale Disney characters, and the concept was cute, even if it continued to reinforce Disney’s hetero-normative culture.

DescendantsDescendants is a musical about how the children of Disney royalty — the son of Belle and Beast, the daughter of Aurora and Philip, the son of Cinderella and Charming, and even Dopey’s son — interact with the children of Disney villians — the children of Malificent, the Evil Queen, Jafar, and Cruella de Vil — at a prep school. It’s the cheesiness of High School Musical meets the Magic Kingdom. And yet, my daughter loves it, and insists on watching it again and again. While it may be that these Disney Channel show tunes are stuck in my head from watching the television movie so many times, I have to admit that some of the songs are even catchy.

The story takes place in the fictional United States of Auradon. Following the marriage of Belle to the Beast, they united all kingdoms and were elected Queen and King of this united kingdom. They sent all villains and their henchmen to the Isle of the Lost, an island ghetto where they wouldn’t be able to practice their evil magic. In turn, the royalty of Auradon seemed to be at peace and didn’t have to interact with the villains or their families. When Ben, Belle and Beast’s teenage son, is about to be crowned king, he decides that his first proclamation is to allow the children of villains to return to Auradon, believing that they shouldn’t suffer for their parents crimes. The children are tasked by their parents, led by Malificent (played by Kristin Chenoweth) with stealing Fairy Godmother’s wand in order to get the villains off the island so that they can take control of Auradon. The story is a “will they or won’t they” with an always-predictable Disney ending. Instead of following in their parents’ footsteps, they decide that they want to be good and do good. They don’t want to be defined by their parents. They want to be their own selves.

While the outcome is predictable — and the ending remains the same no matter how many times my daughter and I watch it — the lesson is important. We shouldn’t be judged based on the actions of another. We are often referred to as someone’s child, sibling, or spouse. But we are not them. While our parents and families certainly nurture us and guide us, that does not mean we need to be defined by them. We strive to hold on to the blessings that family gives us and teaches us, but we cannot carry the burden of their past mistakes. The yoke of their errors is too heavy to carry. Whom they are, how they act, and what they believe is not necessarily whom we are. The Torah reaffirms such an idea. We learn in Deuteronomy 24:16 that a parent should not be punished for the transgressions of a child and a child should not be punished for the transgressions of a parent.

We spend these days leading up to the High Holy Days by letting go of our burdens. We let go of our pasts, but most importantly, we need to let go of the pasts of others that we hold on to and carry with us. Their pasts are not our pasts. We need to be our true selves and not worry about who others are.

As we begin the new year with a clean slate, may we be proud to be ourselves instead of worrying about being viewed as somebody else. May we judge all solely based on their own actions and not based on anyone else’s. After all, even the child of an evil villain can become Disney royalty.

tvpopelulimageDescendants premiered on the Disney Channel on July 21, 2015 and is available to watch on the Disney Channel or On-Demand. 

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Appreciating Our Own Prequels

Fans of The Walking Dead were on the edge of their seats waiting for the premiere of last week’s Fear the Walking Dead on AMC. I previously highlighted The Walking Dead on the Pop Elul Project last year while binge-watching the show on Netflix. I am all caught up and the show continues to be a cable hit. Although the creators of the show and the television network refuse to call the show a “prequel” or “spin-off” and instead refer to it as a companion series to The Walking Dead, they were smart to expand the universe of cable’s most popular show. Why not take advantage of a hit show and create another hit show based on something that is already successful?!? And so Fear the Walking Dead was born, taking place in Los Angeles instead of Atlanta, Georgia or Alexandria, Virginia. The show focuses on the beginning of the zombie outbreak, while The Walking Dead started with the outbreak already underway, with hopes of a crossover once the timelines of the two shows catch up to each other. AMC bet right on this prequel gamble: last Sunday’s premiere episode attracted 10.1 million viewers, a cable television record for a series premiere.

TFearTheWalkingDeadhe prequel phenomenon is not unique to the zombie universe of The Walking Dead. Following the successful run of another AMC hit show, Breaking Bad, the network revealed a Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul, which has received critical acclaim and award nominations. After FX’s hit Sons of Anarchy went off the air this past year, creator Kurt Sutter began talking about expanding that universe to include a prequel and a companion show.

The concept of a prequel is a fascinating one. While I fully understand anxiously waiting for a sequel, and waiting to see the continuation of a beloved story line, there are no surprises in a prequel. We know how things turn out. We already know what the zombie apocalypse world looks like and yet, a record number of viewers turned out to watch Fear the Walking Dead. Why are we so fascinated with prequels? Sequels may reveal a new twist in the storyline, but prequels help us come to terms with what we already know. Prequels allow us to make sense of the chaotic present reality.

We are taught to look inward during Elul. We are taught to think about where we are and where we want to be. We think about the present in order to prepare for the future. We are also taught to not worry about the past. The past is the past and we cannot go back and change it. That is certainly true. However, acknowledging and examining the past allows us to reflect on who we are and where we are in life. We cannot change and be who we strive to be – and get to where we want to be – in life unless we accept who we are and where we are currently. To understand who we are and where we are, we need to reflect on the past. We need to examine the prequels of our lives. Every action has a corresponding reaction. Every decision has a consequence. Thinking back on our past – examining our prequels – helps us understand our present. Only then, can we truly prepare to change. Reflecting on our past successes and mistakes allows us to understand our current reality.

May we each be courageous enough to look back on our pasts, the blessings and the challenges, the right decisions and the wrong ones, to understand how got to where we are. Only once we do this, can we let go of the past in order to start in a new direction for the new year.


Fear the Walking Dead premiered on August 23rd, 2015. New episodes of the show premiere on Sunday nights at 9:00 PM EST on AMC. The show is rated TV-14 for coarse language and violence.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Getting the Train back on Track

Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, was really everything I expected it to be – and more. As a fan of Apatow’s previous films and Schumer’s Comedy Central show, I anticipated the crude and vulgar humor. Still, the movie had heart. The film was truly laugh-out-loud funny and yet, I even got a little teary-eyed at the end. The film, the first that Apatow directed that he did not write himself, stars Schumer as a magazine columnist and Bill Hader – who brilliantly transitions from sidekick to leading man – as a sports physician. Schumer’s character profiles Hader’s Aaron — and the career-saving knee surgery he performs for athletes — for the stereotypical men’s magazine that she writes for. Amy sleeps with Aaron, but unexpectedly ends up falling for him.

TrainwreckAmy is the titular trainwreck. Following a speech from her father (played by Colin Quinn) who tells his children that monogamy is impossible, she grows up to drink a lot and sleep around. Not only does she think that true love is impossible, she focuses on “one night stands” because she doesn’t want to get too close to anyone. She worries about what will happen if she lets her guard down and lets other people into her life. If she never lets anyone in, then she will never get hurt.

Aaron refuses to let their relationship be a one night stand and has her stay the night, calls her the next day, and wants to see her again. She doesn’t know what to do. Amy begins to let her guard down, but having never cared for another, she still waits for them to breakup, eventually causing the breakup herself. The film concludes [spoiler alert] as so many romantic comedies do, with her realizing that she loves Aaron and works to reunite with him and get back together. She comes to understand that no relationship is easy or perfect, but she is still willing to try to make it work and attempts to change her ways.

As we prepare for the High Holy Days, one thing stood out to me – besides the brilliant comedic turns of John Cena and LeBron James: how others can help us change. Amy refuses to change, but it is only once Aaron enters her life that she realizes, because of him, that change is possible. The Hebrew month of Elul is focused change. This is our opportunity to do teshuvah, to let go of the past and change our ways. This is our opportunity to have a fresh start and be better in the year ahead. However, we often focus on self-reflection during this time of year. We are taught to do Cheshbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the soul, and focus on how we can change ourselves. Yet, we forget the impact that our actions have on others.

We are taught that we can’t control others; we can only control ourselves, so we should focus on ourselves. But we live in a world of interconnectivity, a world where we touch each other’s lives, a world where every interaction has consequences. As we seek to change, we have the ability to help others change. Every conversation, every interaction, every moment we experience with another –  those who we are closest to and those who are complete strangers – may influence us, and those we interact with, for the better.

Never underestimate your power to change and never underestimate your power to help others change as well.

moviepopelulimageTrainwreck, written by Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, was released in the United States by Universal Pictures on July 17, 2015. The film has already grossed over $100 million in North America and its opening weekend was the second biggest debut for Apatow. The film is Rated R for sexual content, partial nudity, and language. Viewer discretion advised.  

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

A Small Step Can Lead to a Big Change

Please excuse me for a second while I geek out. I got rid of my childhood comic book collection over a decade ago, but still love the comic book tales of my youth. I’ve loved seeing these stories come to life on the big screen over the past decade as Marvel launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introducing movies about incredible – and under appreciated characters – like Ironman, Thor, Captain America, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, not to mention bringing them together for mega-event motion pictures like the Avengers films. I have seen each of the Marvel films in theaters – some more than once!

Yet, I admittedly questioned the studio’s decision to give Ant-Man a stand-alone movie. Ant-Man is certainly not one of the most popular Marvel superheroes, even if he was an integral part of the initial Avenger comic books. Funnyman Paul Rudd was an interesting choice to play the lead, but with rumors of turmoil in the writers’ room and on the set, with director Edgar Wright leaving the film over “creative differences,” this movie seemed destined to fail. I couldn’t see how Marvel could make an epic, interesting, action-packed, and funny film about a hero who shrinks down to the size of an insect to save the day. Boy, was I wrong!

AntManMarvel made the right move by having the film focus on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the second incarnation of Ant-Man, while still choosing to keep Dr. Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) as an integral part of the story as well. The film tells the tale of Lang, a down on his luck ex-con, recently released from prison who attempts to find a stable job to support his daughter. He ends up getting recruited by his old cellmate Luis (played by the hilarious Michael Pena, who stole the show), to break in to a safe. Thinking the safe was full of cash or diamonds, Lang agrees, but it turns out that all he finds is the Ant-Man suit. Hank Pym orchestrated this whole thing to try to convince Scott Lang to become the new Ant-Man.

The technology allows anyone wearing the suit to shrink down to the size of an ant, and gives them super strength – after all, ants can withstand 5,000 times their weight. Pairing the suit’s abilities with the ability to control the actions of different types of ants through radio frequencies, Lang is tasked with stealing the Yellowjacket suit, the attempt of Darren Cross, Pym’s former protégé, to replicate the Ant-Man technology. Pym’s point is that groundbreaking technology in the right hands can change the world for the better, but if it ends up in the wrong hands, it can have a devastating impact.

Ant-Man was the most entertaining Marvel film since Captain America: Winter Soldier, and most fun film since the original Iron Man movie. Ultimately, this film was a film about teshuvah, about repentance and change. Scott Lang was a criminal. He tried to change his ways, but was pulled back into the criminal world.

The ant-man suit allowed him to change for the better, but the suit is also a metaphor for each of us. In order to be a hero, he didn’t need to become an overpowering green giant like the Hulk or become a super soldier like Captain America. He needed to become small, for the greatest changes we make are often the smallest.

We think that in order to change during this High Holy Day season, we need to reinvent ourselves. We believe that our lifestyles and work habits need to change. We fail before we even start, fearing that we can never truly change in the way that we seek. However, a small change can make a great impact. Do not seek to completely change. However, a small change – an ant-sized change, if you will – may have a deep and long-lasting impact. It’s the small steps that allow us to truly change our ways and change who we are.


Marvel’s Ant-Man is Rated PG-13 for violence, language, and suggestive humor.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky

Letting Go of the Bad Blood

If you pass me on the road, you’ll see me during the summer driving with the windows rolled down, singing along with the radio. Admittedly, a lot of the time this summer, I have been singing along to Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood. This is partially because the song seems to be played on one radio station or another every couple of minutes, and partially because this is Taylor Swift’s latest summer anthem. After all, this isn’t the first time the Pop Elul Project has highlighted Swift’s songs. Last summer, we highlighted the important lesson she teaches in her Shake It Off single, in which she reminds us all to not be bothered by what others say about us or think about us.

Taylor SwiftThis year’s summer anthem Bad Blood, teaches us something different. Another break-up ballad about a relationship gone sour, Swift focuses on the bad blood that now between her and another. Now, she can no longer trust her former significant other.

Yet, her lyrics speak more deeply about how difficult it is for us to let go and forgive. During these Days of Awe, we seek out those that we have wronged and ask for forgiveness. We admit our mistakes and apologize to all those we have wronged, believing that the only way to change is through teshuvah. The only way to be a better version of ourselves is to acknowledge our previous wrongdoings. However, asking for forgiveness is the easy part. We know we have done wrong. We know we want to do better. By admitting our mistakes, we are letting go of the weight on our shoulders, the knot in our stomachs. It is much harder, as the victim, as the one who has been hurt and wronged, to be willing to forgive. It is easier for us to stay angry. It is easier for us to hold a grudge. It is harder to give someone a second chance and a clean slate.

Swift’s hit single says exactly that. She is unable to forgive. She is unable to accept an apology and move on. She sings:

Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes

You say sorry just for show

You live like that, you live with ghosts.

Sometimes though, the opposite of her lyrics are true. Sometimes, we don’t forgive, just for show. Sometimes, we still love the person that wronged us – a family member or friend – but feel like we can’t forgive them. We have to stay strong in our efforts to reject their apologies. Yet, when we live like that, we are the ones living with ghosts. We are the ones stuck in the past.

By apologizing, by doing teshuvah, we – those who have made mistakes and have done wrong to others – have moved on. But by refusing to forgive – by holding a grudge – we refuse to move on. We hang on to the past and while others are changing and striving to be better, we are stuck in neutral.

The Hebrew month of Elul leading up to the Jewish New Year is about change. We need to let go of what we have done wrong in the past, but more importantly, we also need to be willing to let go of what has been done to us as well. We can’t truly move on and give ourselves a much needed fresh start until we are prepared to do so.


“Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift, featuring Kendrick Lamar, is a single off of Swift’s “1989” album. The music video broke Vevo’s 24-hour viewing period record and received seven MTV Video Music Award nominations.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky

Embracing How We Feel on the Inside

I have soft spot for Pixar movies. When many friends suggested that Inside Out was a little too serious and intense for my preschooler (not to mention that most of the premise would probably go over her head anyway), I still insisted on seeing the film. Ever since Toy Story came out twenty years ago, I have never missed seeing a Pixar film in theaters. It may be odd for grown adults to go see an animated film without kids in tow, but I wasn’t going to miss this film. Every Pixar film has successfully made me laugh and cry, with brilliant and unique stories. I also knew that with characters voiced by the likes of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, and Lewis Black, this movie would be hysterical.

What I was not prepared for was how emotional I would get seeing the film, and how important its message is. Inside Out opened on June 19th, 2015 with a huge opening weekend, bringing in over $90 million.

InsideOutThe movie tells the story of a young girl Riley whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, California. Imaginatively told through the manifestations of her five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger – we see how the emotions of this young happy girl change as she adapts to a new house, a new school, new friends, and a new life. Much of the film centers on these emotions traveling from ‘headquarters’ to the ‘five islands’ of her conscious that are powered by core memories to retrieve lost memories. During their journey, we learn of the importance of our multiple emotions.

Joy (voice by Poehler) is the leader of Riley’s conscious, telling the other emotions what to do, and it makes sense, since Riley seems to be a pretty happy kid. However, with the difficult move, we see more and more sad memories entering her conscious. Joy tries hard to fight off the fear, sadness, disgust, and anger that Riley feels, however, it is ultimately Sadness that take control of ‘headquarters’ and saves the day, prompting Riley to return home instead of running away.

Sadness reinstalls Riley’s core memories and in doing so, the young girl cries to her parents, confessing that she is sad. She ends up leading a more emotionally balanced life, with core memories that are created that share multiple emotions. This animated film is more than a cute, fun, and imaginative look on how we think and feel. This film reminds us that we can’t always be happy all the time. We aren’t supposed to be. Furthermore, during those times when we feel sad, we shouldn’t suppress our emotions. We shouldn’t put on a face. We shouldn’t mask our emotions. Rather, we need to be able to cry, and scream, and be sad. Our sadness defines who we are just as much as our joy does.

We spend the month of Elul reflecting on who we are and how we feel. We try to be optimistic and put on a smile. We try to stay positive. As we strive to reconnect with God, we strive to be happy and think about the blessings we have in our lives. However, we need to be comfortable being fearful of God, being angry with God, and crying with God as well. We need to be okay reflecting on the sadness along with the joy. Our experience preparing for the New Year needs to be more than simply saying that last year was great and next year will be even better.

The month of Elul allows us to let go of the past, to dry away our tears, and cast away our sorrows, just as we cast breadcrumbs in the water during Tashlich. Elul gives us permission to begin again. But we can’t do this if we only focus on joy. We must acknowledge the importance – and blessing – of sadness as well.


Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out is Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky