It is hard for many of us to believe that summer is slowly coming to its close. The other day, while on a bicycle ride here on Long Island, I felt fall in the air. By the way, the next day that feeling ended very quickly. In some states children are already going back to school. For us in the Jewish community, we know summer is ending by looking at the calendar and being struck with the fact that Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah, is here, and therefore, so too the New Year 5783. I even received an email from the Jewish Museum in New York with the headline, written in very bold large letters: The Jewish Museum Shop, Get Ready for Rosh Hashanah.
So, now is the time to get ready for Rosh Hashanah, but how? What are we supposed to do to get ready? Do we need to buy something? Do we need to cook or bake something? After all, parents seem to almost know intuitively what to buy for their children, as they help them to prepare for the first day of school. Well, what are we as Jews supposed to do to prepare for the first day of the New Year?
For some of us it might be time to buy new candle holders for the New Year, and why not buy them through the Jewish Museum Shop online? We might also look into our wardrobe closets and make the assessment that it would be nice to have a new suit or new dress for Yuntif? Even though it is a little early for this, some of us might begin thinking of new recipes to use for that wonderful Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner or for the Break-fast on Wednesday night, October 5th.
According to our tradition and its teachers, however, there is a much more important way to begin preparing for the Holy Days ahead, and that is by making a spiritual preparation for them. Elul, by the meaning behind the very letters of the word itself that spell: “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 2:16), teaches us that this is a time to begin focusing on our relationship with God, as God is our beloved and we are God’s.
Beginning with the first day of Elul, the beautiful Psalm 27 is recited at the end of the morning service. The Psalm’s opening words, “God is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” immediately present to us that sense that God is and will be with us during the days and year ahead. There is also the custom to sound the shofar every weekday morning service during this month. In some ways, these glorious and awesome sounds of the ram’s horn are a rehearsal for the days to come when they will be sounded 100 times. For me, the shofar calls during Elul are like a knock on the door, in this case God’s door, letting God know that I am here and ready for the spiritual and religious obligations that lie ahead.
There are many suggestions I could make as to how to spiritually prepare for the Holy Days ahead. Certainly, going to synagogue, at least on Shabbat, would be most beneficial in this regard. For those who do not daven or pray each morning, this might be a good time to start. If you do not know what prayers to say or even where to begin, you should, or course, contact your local clergy. You might want to begin a ritual of meditation during which you develop visualizations of prayers that you are offering to God for the year to come. You can also use this time to offer prayers for loved ones and friends who are ill, thereby praying for a good and blessed year for each of them.
I have found that developing a ritual of reciting daily selections from the Book of Psalms to be my most powerful and inspirational way of preparing for the New Year. I recite psalms 30, 91, 92 and 108 every day. I add the above-mentioned Psalm 27 during Elul. This Psalm becomes my kick-off Psalm to move me into my prayers and meditations on the meaning of the days to come and what I need to do to make them truly most meaningful for myself and those whom I care about.
Are you ready for Elul? Are your prepared for the New Year 5783? The time to prepare is NOW. Spend the time wisely, before it is too late.
A good and blessed Elul to all! Shalom!
Rabbi Dr. Steven A Moss is Rabbi Emeritus of B’nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale, NY, a synagogue he has served since 1972. He recently retired to Boynton Beach, FL, and is serving as rabbi of Temple Sinai of Palm Beach County. He has also authored, God Is With Me; I Have No Fear, and A Poetical Journey Through Sefirat HaOmer.