Look into the night sky tonight and perhaps you will see just the sliver of a new moon. The month of Elul is just beginning.
A New Year begins in less than 30 days.
While much of the language and imagery of the High Holy Days is about judgment (something we moderns often have difficulty with), the days of Elul are understood to be “y’mei ratzon”—days of Divine goodwill, or favor. Somehow, the Tradition seems to suggest, during this month in particular, G-d looks with greater goodwill or favor upon humans.
Why would that be, I wondered? Why would G-d be more merciful, look more kindly upon us, at this period of time more than at any other?
Jewish Tradition teaches that during the month of Elul, Moses began his last 40 days on the mountain, praying for G-d’s compassion and forgiveness. G-d listened to Moses’ plea, granting him and the Jewish People mercy and forgiveness.
And so, according to Jewish Tradition, we too do the work of teshuvah– thoughtfully reflecting on our lives, our actions, our interactions–not waiting until Rosh HaShanah to start, but rather, beginning on the first of Elul and continuing throughout the month. During this time we undertake a cheshbon hanefesh—a “fearless moral inventory”– looking at the ways we may have fallen short of what we know we are capable.
Doing so requires a willingness to be honest with ourselves, and thus, vulnerable. Vulnerable not only to ourselves, but to others, and of course, to what I like to call “The Deep Place of Knowing”—one of my favorite names for G-d.
I believe that when we are willing to be honest and vulnerable, our hearts cannot help but open. We see ourselves—with our flaws as well as our virtues. We allow ourselves to acknowledge how hard it can be to be human.
When our hearts open, so too (in my imagination, at least), does G-d’s. G-d’s “heart” opens to us in understanding and compassion. There, in G-d’s open heart, we are seen and accepted for the totality of who we are—with our flaws and virtues–with divine goodwill. We are not damned forever for falling short of who we can be. We simply acknowledge that we did and then try to reach higher as we move forward into the new year.