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14 Elul 5783

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio

Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW

This is a story which is told by the Indigenous peoples of East Africa, the South American Altiplano and also finds roots in the people of the Northern Pacific Islands. This version is from the book by Michael Nicoll Yahgulahaas. It is the story of a hummingbird, in many cultures a creature symbolising beauty, agility, hope and healing.

There was a great forest and it was consumed by fire. The flames raged and burned and the animals were afraid. They fled from their homes. The elephant and tiger ran, the beaver scurried, the frog hopped away, the birds flew far from the flames. The creatures all escaped the forest, huddled at its edges and watched the destruction unfold. All except for one.

The little hummingbird flew to the river and she pulled a drop of water into her beak and she flew to the fire and let the drop of water fall. Then she flew back to the river for another drop of water. She continued back and forth.

All the other animals watched the brave little bird as she flew.

“What can I do?” asked the rabbit, “there is fire and I am scared!”

“The fire is so big,” said the fox, “and I am so small.”

“I can’t do anything about this fire,” said the frog

“My wings will burn,” said the dove

The little hummingbird just kept flying picking up water, drop by drop and releasing it onto the fire. The animals all watched and eventually the bear said: “little hummingbird, what are you doing?”

She looked at the animals and said: “I am doing what I can.”

As we journey through the month of Elul, it can sometimes seem overwhelming. Our troubles are great, our mis-steps and wrongdoing in the past year may feel insurmountable. We may be frozen like the other animals in the story, not able to move from our places. But the hummingbird reminds us that all we are asked is to do what we can. Lo aleicha hamlacha ligmor, you are not required to complete the task…ve lo ata lehibatel mimena, but neither are you free to desist from it. We are not asked to do it all, we are not expected to be perfect, but we are challenged to do what we can, to be the best versions of ourselves and when we stray, to notice, act and return to the path. This season can be challenging, it is hard to examine our deeds and see the times we fell short, but all of us are flawed, we all make mistakes and when we find courage, like the hummingbird, to meet the fire head on, then we find hope, strength and blessings.

See more Elul Reflections