By Dennis Math, a Jewish Health, Healing and Recovery Network Volunteer
The Month of Elul, a Time of Preparation
The High Holy Days, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, are considered by the rabbis to be a "palace in time". The vestibule to the royal palace is the month of Elul, which is to be utilized as a month of spiritual preparation for the awesome days ahead.
The month prior to Elul is Av, a solemn and mournful month. The most noteworthy day of Av is Tisha BAv., the Ninth Day of Av. Many tragic events in the history of the Jewish people are believed to have happened on this day; most importantly, the destruction of the holy Temples in Jerusalem, the first in 586 BCE, by the Babylonians, and the second in 70 CE at the hands of the Romans. During the three weeks prior to Tisha BAv, many Jews refrain from getting married, and some men do not shave. Tisha BAv is a day of fasting.
Even though the month of Av commemorates tragedy, there is the notion that the messiah will be born on this day. This notion reflects the Jewish idea that out of the ashes of destruction can come rebirth and renewal. This gives us the hope that out of our own personal tragedies, there can be growth and new beginnings.
During the month of Elul, the shofar is sounded every morning, except on the Sabbath. Its blast is to wake us up from our apathy and lethargy, so we can examine our deeds and resolve to better our lives. In the synagogue, prayers of penitence, called selichot, are recited. On the Saturday night, just prior to Rosh Hashana, there is a late night service in the synagogue, called Selichot, during which prayers of penitence are recited
During the month of Elul, beloved relatives and friends are remembered. It is customary to send greeting cards, wishing people a happy and healthy new year and expressing our hope that they will be inscribed in the Book of Life. It is also customary to visit the graves of our loved ones as a sign of love and respect. These customs reflect the idea that this is the time to renew our connections with those both alive and dead.
The Rabbis point out that the first letter of each of the famous words, "Ani l dodi vdodi lee", "I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine" from Solomon's Song of Songs, constitute the word Elul. It reminds us that, during Elul, we are to reflect on our relationships with our dear ones and determine if we have lived up to the sacred trust we have with each of them.
The month of Elul is the time for pondering our deeds in preparation for the High Holy Days. It reminds us that we are capable of making changes and improving our lives. During this time, we are to summon the strength necessary to bridge the gap between the person we are and the person we can become. We, of Jewish Connections, encourage you to use this time well.
These "Spirituality Notes" are excerpts from our monthly E-newsletter. Articles are © JBFCS Rita J. Kaplan Jewish Connections Programs and may be reprinted free of charge as long as this credit line is included.