In Texas, August means back to school (though for some lucky ones it may still be vacation). However, for Jews around the world at some point in the late summer or early fall, we start the question: Are the holidays early or late this year? The reality is that the holidays come based on a crazy Jewish calendar that goes by the moon but also the sun and seven times in 19 years we add another month so that we can play catch-up. This is it — TWO ADARS! So this year, the holidays will be early and then starting with Purim, everything will be late!!
Now that you understand the Jewish calendar (a little) it is important to know that we are in the month of Elul. This is the last month of the Jewish year although Nisan is actually counted as the first month and Tishri is the seventh month, which is when we celebrate Rosh Hashanah and change the number of the year because in the Torah it says that in the seventh month, we blow shofar — wait a minute! Back to our crazy calendar again!!
The important lesson is that Elul is the month to prepare spiritually for the High Holy Days season and it is a time of reflection and repentance. The personal stock-taking is known in Hebrew as cheshbon-hanefesh — “an accounting of the soul.” We use this month to review the past year and get ready for divine judgment (more on that later).
The best-known tradition for the month of Elul is the daily blowing of the shofar (except on Shabbat). The mitzvah is not to blow but to listen and when you hear the sound, the message is to think, change and grow. Another custom is to recite Psalm 27, which reminds us that G-d protects us and we ask that G-d not forget us.
Here are two teachings about Elul from myjewishlearning.com that tell us that Elul is a time of divine closeness to G-d and that as we repair our relationship with others, we also repair our relationship with G-d.
“One of the best-known teachings about Elul is that the four Hebrew letters of the month’s name are an acronym from the verse in Song of Songs: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li (“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”). Song of Songs is understood to be an allegory in which the lovers are G-d and Israel. Elul is thus understood to be a time of recommitting to our relationship with G-d.
“Another teaching, attributed to Shneur Zalman of Liady, the founder of the Chabad Hasidic sect, compares G-d to a king who is normally ensconced in his palace where he is merely glimpsed or addressed through intermediaries. But during Elul, the king comes out to the field and can be approached by any of his subjects.”
Blowing the shofar is a wonderful experience but it does take practice. As we blow each morning, we wake up the listeners as well as practice to be ready for the big moment in synagogue. It takes skill and practice but the most important quality for a shofar blower is humility!! It’s not about you — you are merely the one sounding the call. Once we are woken up, the real work begins inside each of us. May you have a meaningful Elul leading to meaningful High Holy Days and most important, a new year!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.