In the waning days of summer, when you want to hang on to every last moment, there is another fragrance that begins to enter your consciousness. The wafts of the High Holy Day season reach you at your outer edges. In the middle of planning one last summer excursion, you may remember that you have to make additional plans. Soul plans.
Each and every year, the High Holy Days arrive without fail, whether you are ready or not, and remind you that no matter what’s going on in the world, returning “home” is possible.
Even though Rosh Hashanah is not until September 30, we Jews like to approach everything important with a warm-up, so that when we arrive at the new year, we are ready and open.
Elul Soul Preparation
The rabbis declared that the entire month of Elul that precedes Rosh Hashanah is meant for soul preparation and spiritual accounting. This 30-day period is designed to contemplate your life, take stock of where you are, who you are, and who you are meant to be.
Elul soul preparation is about getting back into right relationship: with other people in our lives, with ourselves, with God and with community. This season is about moving from brokenness to wholeness. In truth, this season began with Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) when everything fell apart. And we spend Elul working to repair and reconnect in the reality of the present.
The first day of Elul this year is September 1.
On this first day, the shofar begins to blow, and it blows each day for the entire month. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides) says the shofar calls us to wake up from our sleep. He writes in his Mishnah Torah “Search your ways and return in teshuvah…examine your souls…” (Repentance 3:4)
On the first day of Elul, Moses ascends Mt. Sinai after the incident with the Golden Calf, which nearly broke our relationship with the Eternal. Moses stayed there for 40 days, pleading for forgiveness for the people. On Yom Kippur, God gives Moses the second set of Tablets, indicating a reconciliation. This journey mirrors the process we are supposed to go through in this season: we assess our lives, recommit to our core values and best selves.
As my mentor, Rabbi Laura Geller teaches, the High Holy Days only “work” when you do your own “work.” Too many of us come to this season with expectations that something will happen to make this season meaningful. After prayer services, we discuss over lunch whether or not the rabbi’s sermon moved us or called us to action. Or whether the choir sufficiently moved our hearts.
I promise you this: the degree to which the High Holy Days are meaningful this year for you will be in direct proportion to the amount of time you set aside to do your own personal soul preparation, reflection and accounting.
Let’s begin to prepare your soul:
- Find a notebook that can be your Elul 2019 Journal. You can write your responses to the questions I am posing and your thoughts.
- Take out your calendar and make a list of all the significant events of the year. What did you learn? What had meaning for you?
- It’s traditional to recite Psalm 27 every day this month. It’s a wonderful psalm to journal about and/or discuss with a friend. In verse 4, the psalmist writes: “One thing have I asked of YHVH/Adonai, that will I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of YHVH/Adonai all the days of my life.” Journal question: What is “home” for you? When and where have you felt connected to the Divine? What would it be like to imagine that God was a dwelling place in which you can rest? (For Psalm 27 and lovely commentary, click here.)
The promise of this season, claims Rabbi Alan Lew z’’l, is nothing less than transformation.*
For your free High Holiday Spiritual Checklist, click here.
*adapted from my 6 week series on Spiritual Preparation for the High Holy Days originally published in the Jewish Journal