As the sun set this evening, the month of Elul began. Elul, as some of you know, is the month preceding the Hebrew month of Tishri; it is a time of reflection and preparation for the intense work that is to come in just 30 days, as the High Holy Days begin.
I often greet Elul with a mixture of trepidation and eager anticipation. Trepidation because the beginning of the Jewish New Year requires a tremendous amount of work and effort: High Holy Day services to be organized, the new year’s calendar to be planned, the school’s curriculum further refined. But eager anticipation because the New Year offers an opportunity to begin again, to do it all a little differently this time, to “recalibrate” the direction in which we are headed—both as individuals and as a community.
It’s important work that we Jews are asked to do during Elul and the ten days that follow. Who knows how the choices we make affect our own lives and the lives of those we love? Who knows how they affect the universe in which we all live? Elul gives us the chance to make those choices more consciously and intentionally in the coming new year.
So how do we go about this work of reflection and preparation? In our often too busy and packed lives, how do we carve out a little time for this most important practice specified by Jewish Tradition?
“Open up for me the eye of a needle and I will open for you the most expansive corridors of the Great Hall.” G-d asks of us only one thing: “I don’t ask you to change your entire life; I ask only that you open up for me the eye of a needle. Dedicate to Me, one moment, one space, one corner of your life. But this moment, this space, this corner should be only for Me.” (Midrash, Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:2; Zohar III, 95a. Pesikta Rabsi, sec. 15, Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, parashat HaChodesh.)
It’s a beautiful teaching, isn’t it? If every day we take a moment out–to pause, to sit quietly, to connect in a way that is meaningful and real with Life and/the Great Mystery of All Life—then the most expansive corridor of “the Great Hall” will open for us. Perhaps, in that most expansive corridor, we will see everything from a broader perspective, what I might call a “spiritual” perspective. Who knows what wisdom or deeper understanding might emerge as a result?
Friends, Elul—chodesh hacheshbon—a month of accounting—is upon us. Each day I hope to share one small teaching from our rich tradition that might help guide us in our journey to the Yamim Noraim—the Days of Awe. You will find them posted on our webpage. If you find a teaching you’d like to share, please email me. Perhaps we can all be companions with one another, along the way.
May we use these 30 days wisely and thoughtfully. Each day offers new possibilities.
Toward Justice and Peace,
1 Elul 5774