We are in the month of Elul, a time to prepare for the High Holidays.
For many that preparation is about getting seats at the synagogue and buying clothes and deciding what to serve at the break-fast. However, we know that preparation for the holidays should go much deeper.
The synagogue and the clothes and the food are all important but the real goal is to reflect on the past year and make changes for the coming year.
A favorite website of mine is ejewishphilanthropy.com — it offers articles and thoughts on so many Jewish subjects and not just philanthropy (giving is important!). Recently there was an article by Tamara Cohen titled “Five ways to focus your spiritual preparations for the High Holidays.” I am not going to give away her “five ways” but rather the way she presented her ideas was thought-provoking.
Cohen took traditions and then made suggestions to enhance or change the tradition. So often we think we must do things in the same way because of tradition and often those traditions don’t work for us. Here is the challenge: Take time with your family or alone and list the many traditions that have always been part of your holiday and then add on (or take away if something hasn’t worked for you in the past).
Here is one tradition from Cohen’s list of five that may get you thinking:
Kol Nidre: Tradition — Kol Nidre (the first prayer recited on the eve of Yom Kippur) serves to annul all existing vows and prepare us to begin the New Year with a clean slate. The Al Chet prayer enumerates the specific ways we have missed the mark. Suggestion — take some time to re-evaluate your participation in the community. Try to be more conscious of how you spend your time and money. Do your calendar and checkbook reflect your values and priorities?
Reflection is not always easy, especially when we need to look at our past deeds. Judaism is wonderful in that the word for sin is really about “missing the mark” — we can be close but not quite there or we can be really far from the mark yet every step we take to get closer is a step in the right direction. Let this month of Elul be a time to focus on the steps we can take to do better or do more or just do differently!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.