In “researching” (is that the same as Googling?) Elul, I have learned lots of new things and have found many helpful ways to make the reflection over this month more meaningful. From sefaria.org (an amazing site that you should check out!), Rabbi Dina Rosenberg wrote about the Jewish year 2448 (1312 BCE), the year the Jewish people left Egypt on the 15th of Nissan. Here’s what happened next by the numbers:
- 50 days later: The Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai and all are present when G-d speaks to the people. The people commit to following the laws and tell Moses to go up the mountain to talk to G-d.
- 40 days after: Moses comes down on the 17th of Tammuz, sees the Golden Calf, smashes the Tablets and punishes those who took part in the making of the calf and especially for bowing down to an idol after making the promise (to accept the Torah and not to worship idols) just a short time before.
- 40 days more: Moses goes back up and pleads for the people — the month of Elul. G-d is ready to give Moses a new people to bring into the land but Moses begs for forgiveness for the Israelites.
- 40 days later: G-d agrees, and on the 10th of Tishri, Moses returns with the second set of Tablets and the people are thrilled with the good news. This day, the 10th of Tishri, is designated as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, from that point forward!
A lot of fascinating numbers, and 40 seems to play a big role in Jewish experiences! The big question is really, what are we going to do for the next 40 days? Will we be ready for that day of judgment? This is really the hard part and, hopefully, reflection is not just a once-a-year happening. There are many ways to make reflection a habit, and you don’t need to stop after the month of Elul! Here are a few questions that come from a variety of places:
- What are you most passionate about in your life and how would someone know it?
- What three things do you value most in life?
- What has been one of the toughest things you have had to say to someone else?
- What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you see yourself in the mirror?
- What is one of the most meaningful compliments you’ve ever received?
- What do you wish you were better at and why?
These are just a few and, of course, after you answer each one, go deeper into the question. Think about the “inner you” — who are you, then who do you want to be, and, most important, how will you grow to make a difference in our world this new year. Each of us must find the way that works best for us, which is one of the wonderful things about Judaism: There are so many possibilities and entryways for our Jewish journey and we can start at any time, anywhere and any way. And don’t forget to listen to the shofar — it is a great wake-up call (and there is an app for that!).
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.