All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, let every person sit and look into his or her soul, and search his or her deeds, that that person may do atonement.” (Maharal)
As you may know, the High Holy Day process begins long before the sun sets on Erev Rosh Hashanah, and continues even beyond Neilah, the concluding service of Yom Kippur. Our Tradition teaches that we begin to prepare for the High Holy Days on the first of Elul (the month preceding Rosh Hashanah; this year, Elul begins tonight, the evening of August 6thh), and continues until Hoshanah Rabbah (the seventh day of Succot, this year occurring on September 25th).
This year, I would like to invite us to travel through the month of Elul with one another, in both our consciousness and our intention. My hope is that by doing so, we might deepen our connection with one another, as well as our experience of this period and the upcoming Yamiim Noraim.
So how might we take this journey with one another?
Since ancient times Jews have engaged in two primary practices during the month of Elul: 1) hearing the shofar blown every morning (except Shabbat and the last day of the month), and 2) reading Psalm 27 at every service during the month. The shofar is an invitation to wake up, to pay attention to those the truths we need to face; in other words, to be more conscious and intentional about how we live our lives. And Psalm 27 was written by someone who cried out to God to when he or she felt overcome by enemies—whether literal or figurative. (Today we might understand those enemies as the voices of our critics (internal or external), the part of ourselves (or others) that is quick to find fault and unable to accept us for who we are, without judgment.
In addition to hearing the shofar sound, what else might help us “wake up”? In recent years, many Jews have participated in something called “Jewels of Elul.” Sponsored by a number of Jewish organizations (including the URJ), this project sends you a teaching every day during the month of Elul. Sign up http://www.letmypeoplesing.com/jewels/?page_id=99) and set aside a little time to read the teaching and meditate on it. And/or, recite Psalm 27 each day. Read through the Psalm slowly, and see if a particular word or verse resonates for you. Meditate on that verse, or write some reflections in response to it. See what insights are revealed over the course of this next month. If you are interested in sharing some of your reflections or insights with others in the KHN community, write to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll invite you to join a special website that will be our own KHN’s Jewels of Elul. It is my hope that doing might help us feel more connected as a community, as together we travel through this month of Elul, allowing all of us, I hope, to enter into the High Holy Days in a more meaningful way. An early L’shanah Tovah to all.
The Eternal is my light and my help; whom shall I fear?
The Eternal is the stronghold of my life;
whom should I dread?
In my very guts came evil to gnaw and consume me,
But these my troubles, my enemies, stumbled and fell.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear.
Though war rise up against me, even then I will keep faith.
One thing I ask of The Eternal, only one thing I seek–
that I may dwell in the house of the Eternal
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of The Eternal,
to visit Its temple.
For It hides me in Its sukkah on the day of evil,
grants me the protection of Its tent.
It lifts me upon a rock.
And now my head will be uplifted–above my enemies all around me,
In Its tent I offer offerings with a shofar blast
I sing and chant praise to the Eternal.
Hear my voice, O God, when I cry aloud!
Have mercy on me, answer me!
It was on Your behalf that my heart said: Seek my face!”
It is Your face, O God, that I will seek.
Do not conceal Your face from me,
Do not, in your anger, set Your servant aside.
You have been my help before;
Do not now cast me off–do not desert me!
O God, my deliverer.
Though my father and mother abandon me,
The Eternal will gather me together.
Teach me your path, O God,
and lead me on a smooth and well-kept road–
Because there are those who lie in ambush for me.
Do not hand me over to the will of my adversaries,
for lying witnesses have arisen against me–whose every breath does violence.
If I had not kept trusting that I would see the Eternal’s goodness,
While I was still in the land of the living!
Wait for the Eternal
Be strong, and let your hearts take courage.
Wait for the Eternal.