It’s hot. Here in Sarasota and seemingly everywhere in the northern hemisphere. When it’s this hot we tend to move more slowly, feel more sluggish. It’s just too hot to be running around.
So it is easy to ignore the changes in the Jewish calendar, one that doesn’t seem to have much relevance for our modern, American lives. But this weekend marks a change, one that is meant to be felt throughout our being as we anticipate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, coming in just a month’s time.
We all know just how momentous the Ten Days of Awe are supposed to be – and how easy they are to disregard.
But Elul is here, even if it is just on the edge of our awareness, like the sound of distant thunder on a hot, cloudless day.
Despite the heat, the month of Elul can be full of transformative personal energy, a time of introspection and spiritual preparation. We each can take a deep, long look within, not critically but instead lovingly, taking stock of this past year, and discerning how we want to live our lives in the coming year.
We can ask ourselves: When was I my highest self this past year? What was delightful, and what would I like to experience again next year? When am I my best, and how can I be that again?
Rabbi Daniel Nevins wrote, “You and I may never be world champions in any sport or other celebrated skill. But we each have a soul that was designed for challenges and that is waiting for attention. Let’s use this month to practice—to walk after God, to feel reverence, to guard the mitzvot, to listen for the Voice, to serve, and to cling. With God’s help, our practice will lead to great joy and love.”
Some of us want to serve God, like Rabbi Nevins. Others want to serve humanity, or their community, or simply their family. To me, they are one and the same. All can lead to great personal satisfaction and joy.
During this month leading up to the High Holidays there is a custom of reading Psalm 27 every day. It’s not about confessing sins or admitting guilt, or feeling bad about the past year. Instead, it begins with a verse that is meant to comfort: “The Divine is my light and my help, whom should I fear? The Divine is the strength of my life, whom should I dread?”
One other tradition of Elul — to blow the shofar daily. The daily blast is meant to awaken us to the coming Days of Awe.
I was always taught that this was a time to begin to atone for my sins, to look at the ugly parts of myself. As I grow older (and wiser, I hope) I am less inclined to dwell on my past sins and instead rejoice in the brightness of the present, the joyous shofar blasts that ring out in the morning sun.
We are a month from the High Holidays. May we be blessed to move through this month of Elul with abounding joy and hope.