FRIDAY, August 10th
This weekend, on Shabbat and Sunday, we welcome the Hebrew month of Elul. Please join us for Rosh Chodesh davening, complete with hallel this Shabbat and Sunday. On Sunday we will also begin one month of sounding the shofar.
Elul is a very special time, when we say “the King is in the field,” meaning that it is easier to talk to God at this time than at other times of year. This has to do with the name of the month spelled א-ל-ו-ל, which is understood as an acronym for אני לדודי ודודי לי (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine) a phrase from Shir Hashirim(6:3) that speak of tremendous intimacy between the Jewish people and God. The verse continues הרועה בשושנים “He pastures among the lilies,” which can be seen as another reference to God’s accessibility—He is, in a sense out in the fields, where anyone can speak to Him.
Rosh Chodesh Elul is also the day when Moshe ascended mount Sinai to fast and pray for forty days and forty nights, culminating in the reconciliation between God and the Israelites after the sin of the golden calf, and the receiving of the second set of tablets on the tenth day of Tishrei (aka Yom Kippur). Thus, Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the beginning of a forty-day season of teshuvah and atonement which will reach its climax on Yom Kippur. Though we are not able to climb Mount Sinai or fast for forty days, as Moshe did, God makes this a little easier on us by making Himself accessible to any ordinary Jew who wishes to do teshuvah.
I know personally, when Rosh Chodesh Elul rolls around, I start getting anxious about getting ready for the holidays—all the meals I have to cook, the sermons I have to write, the events and services I need to plan. However, I try to take a little of that nervous energy and channel it into the real work of this season, which is teshuvah.
The more we do our homework during Elul—engaging in serious reflection and cheshbon hanefesh (personal accounting), the more effective and meaningful our prayers on the Yamim Nora’im will be. I encourage each of us to decide right now on some simple way that we are going to use the month of Elul to do that work. Perhaps that means setting aside twenty minutes each night with a pen and paper to write down things we are struggling with or that we need to do teshuvah for. Perhaps that means taking one long walk by ourselves each week for the next four weeks and pouring our heart out to God. Perhaps that could mean taking a moment each time we say the Shemoneh Eshrei, taking time during the blessing of Teshuvah, to reflect on what we need to do teshuvah for. Perhaps it means simply committing to reading one book about teshuvah this month (I recommend Changing the World from the Inside Out by Rabbi David Jaffe). Whatever we choose to do, it should be something realistic and doable, but also something that has the potential to really change our thinking and behavior. The daily blast of the shofar during Elul can serve as a little reminder to stay engaged in that work, so that Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement, does not catch us off guard.