Fuel for Elul – Preparing for the High Holy Days by Cantor Mary Rebecca Thomas

September 2016

Elul is back to school shopping. Elul is the letter you get from the dentist reminding you to schedule your next cleaning and x-rays. Elul is that chapter in the healthy eating book that gives you the grocery list and tells you to clean out your cabinets. Elul is a warning shot across the bow, reminding you of the gravity of what is at hand.

Elul is the 30 day month that directly precedes the High Holy Days. Elul culminates in the first of Tishrei – Rosh Hashanah – The Birthday of the World, a microcosm of the miracle of life. The sages of our tradition gave us the gift of Elul as a time for sacred preparation for Rosh Hashanah.

Elul is a period of cheshbon hanefesh – soul accounting. We are to take stock of our innermost thoughts, desires, motivators, longings and compare them to our reality. We are to check in on the way we treat others, what we are doing to improve our world and ourselves. We are to connect deeply with the person we have always imagined we would be.

Some traditional practices during Elul include hearing the shofar each morning from the first day of Elul (August 23rd this year) until Rosh Hashanah. Psalm 27 is recited as a special psalm for the month, beginning “One thing I have asked of Adonai, one thing I have requested – that I may dwell in Adonai’s house all of the days of my life…” There are traditions of offering s’lichot – penitential prayers and the name of the special, late-night service the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah. There are traditions around giving generously of time and funds during Elul, with the belief that we have the ability to turn the tide for the year to come through our active work towards repair and building of our world. During Elul, we are to allow the good of our inner nature to win out over the impulses that distract from being our best selves.

There are lots of things you can do at home to prepare during Elul. Try setting time aside for meditation in the morning or evening. Buy a special and relaxing tea to incorporate into a nightly journaling practice. Buy a shofar at the TBE gift shop and sound it each morning during the month (just not too early for your neighbors). Read a book that inspires you to be your best self. Try treating your body as the palace of your soul. Connect with those you love and nurture the special bonds between you.

At TBE, we will begin religious school during Elul (it’s not too late to register). We will pray our S’lichot service on September 24th in partnership with Temple Israel. We will offer several Fuel for Elul opportunities to boost your the learning, community building, and spiritual practice that you can do in preparation. We will continue to have Shabbat worship, as we always do, but the melodies and the messages will start to take on the character of the holidays. We will sing Psalm 27 and we will sing Or Zarua Latzadik – Light is sown for the righteous – the righteousness within our grasp, the everyday holiness that we can attain. Elul is a warning shot across the bow, calling each of us to tend the gardens of our souls, to seed the lives we wish to lead.