I was speaking in my last post about the holidays, fasts and special days that make up our Jewish calendar. Of course, we are all engaged in the global world so we organize our days by the standard calendar. But, we also have a Jewish calendar and this is one of the many things that a newly observant Jew comes to discover. We know the main events of course: Pesach, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Chanukah. And then there is Succot and Shavuot, although these two holidays are not fully observed. But, we also have an entire month—the month of Elul, which begins this year on September 3rd.
A time for spiritual accounting
While not a holiday, Elul is very special as it takes us to the end of our Jewish year. For an entire month we reflect on who we are, what we have done during the year, and what we would like to change. It is a time to spend in deep introspection to discover the aspects of our personal lives that have perhaps fallen too much on the side of materialism, neglecting our spiritual side, our family, friends, or even ourselves. Instead of waiting until Rosh HaShanah itself, when everything for the coming year is decided, we take the entire preceding month to sort out our actions, correct our mistakes, and make a strategic plan for the coming year.
The shofar awakens us
Elul begins with much celebration in Jerusalem. At the Kotel, the shofar is sounded and thousands of people descend to the ancient city to say the special tefilah that marks the month. Sephardic Jews begin their ritual of rising very early in the morning to say Slichot, special prayers of teshuva that are recited every morning until Rosh HaShanah. Ashkenazi Jews begin later. From the second day of Elul, the shofar is blown in every synagogue to remind us that we are in the month of reflection and repair. It is a powerful time and I recommend that you try and tap into the month as much as possible.