In Jewish communities throughout the world, the shofar is sounded every day in Elul. This prescribed daily ritual is a summons, a wake up call to remind us that time passes quickly and our actions matter. "Prepare," it begs us, "Give thought to how you want to live this year and decide what kinds of actions you will take to ensure your legacy is one in which your actions boldly declare your values." The shofar calls us to examine where we have veered from our highest ideals and to turn back towards all that is sacred in our lives. The shofar blast reinforces the need to reach out, not only to our inner circle but to the world around us. We ask ourselves: how we can alleviate suffering, loneliness, poverty, oppression and injustice? What can we do better this year that we hoped to do last year?
Tradition also prescribes the recitation of Psalm 27 twice every day in Elul. The words of this psalm affirm an eternal human yearning to draw close to God. A Midrash pictures God pleading with us: "My children, give me an opening of repentance no bigger than the eye of a needle, and I will widen it into an opening through which wagons and carriages will pass." (Song of Songs Rabbah). This image suggests that teshuvah (repentance, turning back towards God) is always possible and may start with very small steps. Once we begin, however, the rewards on our psyche, on our relationships and on the world at large, will be so great that we will be empowered and encouraged to continue that work indefinitely.
My prayer for all of us is that this month of Elul be one that prepares us for the work of our upcoming holy days and beyond. To that end, here are some online resources to guide you:
- View the words of Psalm 27.
- For some contemporary, Elul-related readings, take a look at this prayer or reflect on this poem.
- And to delve even deeper, explore this study guide that suggests a different Jewish value to hone for each day of the month of Elul (As you read this we will already be on day 13).