This may take up to thirty seconds.
Before we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, we have to prepare. Our tradition uses the month of Elul for a practice called cheshbon ha’nefesh, an accounting of the soul. Use these pages to reflect on the past year, take responsibility for where you might have made mistakes and do some spiritual accounting. And don’t worry, there isn’t any math.
What am I proud of in this past year?
What do I regret?
From whom must I ask forgiveness?
Whom must I forgive?
What can I release from the past year?
What do I want to embrace in the year to come?
From Seeker Season Guidebook for the Curious & Courageous https://highholidaysathome.com/haggadah/seeker-season
Art by Jessica Tamar Deutsch, http://www.jessicatdeutsch.com/
Elul (Hebrew: אֱלוּל) is the twelfth month of the Jewish civil year and the sixth month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar. It is a summer month of 29 days. Elul usually occurs in August–September on the Gregorian calendar. The name of the month, like the names of the rest of the Hebrew calendar months, was brought from the Babylonian Exile, and originated from the Akkadian word for "Harvest".
In the Jewish tradition, the month of Elul is a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The word “Elul” is similar to the root of the verb “search” in Aramaic. The Talmud writes that the Hebrew word "Elul" can be expanded as an acronym for "Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li" - "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (Song of Solomon 6:3). Elul is seen as a time to search one's heart and draw close to God in preparation for the coming Day of Judgement, Rosh Hashanah, and Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
During the month of Elul, there are a number of special rituals leading up to the High Holy Days. It is customary to blow the shofar every morning (except on Shabbat) from Rosh Hodesh Elul (the first day of the month) until the day before Rosh Hashanah. The blasts are meant to awaken one's spirits and inspire him to begin the soul searching which will prepare him for the High Holy Days. As part of this preparation, Elul is the time to begin the sometimes-difficult process of granting and asking for forgiveness. It is also customary to recite Psalm 27 every day from Rosh Hodesh Elul through Hoshanah Rabbah on Sukkot (in Tishrei).
Aside from the blowing of the shofar, the other major ritual practice during Elul is to recite selichot (special penitential prayers) either every morning before sunrise beginning on the Sunday immediately before Rosh Hashanah, or, if starting Sunday would not afford 4 days of selichot, then the Sunday one week prior (Ashkenazi tradition) or every morning during the entire month of Elul (Sephardi tradition). Ashkenazi Jews begin the recitation of selichot with a special service on Saturday night between solar mid-night (not 12:00) and morning light on the first day of Selichot.
Many Jews also visit the graves of loved ones throughout the month in order to remember and honor those people in our past who inspire us to live more fully in the future. Another social custom is to begin or end all letters written during the month of Elul with wishes that the recipient have a good year. The standard blessing is "K'tiva VaHatima Tova" ("a good writing and sealing [of judgement]"), meaning that the person should be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year. Tradition teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, each person is written down for a good or a poor year, based on their actions in the previous one, and their sincere efforts at atoning for mistakes or harm. On Yom Kippur, that fate is "sealed."
By David Wolkin
This is adapted from an original post that I wrote in 2010.
The 10 Days of Repentance represent the window of time in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, during which time we are meant to repent on the sins of the past year. I’ve always found it tough to focus on this and properly bring it down to earth, so I developed this writing exercise to help me through it. It can work for anyone, irrespective of faith. Read on…
Imagine if you had to spend 10 days in a room confronted with all of your sins/mistakes/wrongdoings of the past year:
1. What would that room look like? How big would it be?
2. Who or what would be in this room? Would there mostly be people in that room? Actions? Thoughts? Decisions? Ideas?
3. What what you say to them/what would they say to you?
4. What would it feel like to spend 10 days in there? Could you handle it?
5. What would you do with the time that you had in there? What would you address first, last?
At the end of those 10 days, whatever you do, it’s time for you to leave that room and close the door for the next year. But don’t close it all the way. Leave it just a little bit ajar. You may have done all you can, but accept the fact that come next year, you might re-enter that room and be confronted with some of the same things. And Yom Kippur comes along, you can be the one closing the gates, writing the book. You don’t have to let God make all of the decisions, since at the end of the day, so much of it is completely in your own hands.
Happy new year, everybody!
And G!d says: “You think these are my office hours? That only in these precious days I can hear you? No! I walk with you through the valleys and the fields, gridlocked streets and riot blocks. It is YOU who hears ME in these coming days. It will be you who stops to listen. These gates are open for YOU.”
And G!d says: “Can you feel the turning? The sun is lower and the trees are beginning to burn; it is time, again. The time is coming. You will not be ready. Even if you have planned each menu for your vegan, gluten-free, macrobiotic Rosh Hashanah lunches. Even if you are expected to lead your community in prayer. Even if you remembered to buy local, organic honey, there is no readiness for the work to come. Only a willingness to show up and dive in.”
And G!d says: “Awake! Awake! This is the time when nothing can hide, when the leaves are still outstretched on their branches, and even the cornhusks are opening to reveal their sweetness. So too, should be the ugliness of the world - if you have not known it before now, then rouse yourself. It is not too late. There is too much to do; you cannot sleep any more.”
And G!d says: “You, who are exhausted with the work already. You, with the asphalt-worn boots, with the house full of placards. You, who are always breathing in, preparing to shout, who sees the work everywhere and swallows the impossible sea of it: breathe out, weary ones. Prepare yourselves to go in, and to go in deep. Find the work inside: the work of self-kindness, the work of healing and repair. The work on the street will still be there when you re-enter. The world needs you whole.”
From Dane Kuttler's The G!d Wrestlers, The Social Justice Warrior's Guide to the High Holy Days, Sept. 2015
By Rachel Kann
If you can find stillness,
the jasmine will night-bloom in your direction
and the breeze
will carry its sacred exhalation of perfume
the moon will cascade waves of radiance
drop her silver robes,
You will awaken,
overtaken by a love
that asks no permission,
golden particles rising
beneath your skin.
all of existence
longs to be an offering.
eternity is a constant whisper
wishing to be listened to.
This is the beginning.
This is only the beginning.
Let it in.
This three-stanza prayer/poem from liturgist and poet Alden Solovy reflects the spiritual journey of t’shuva, repentance and return. The first stanza represents the month of Elul, when we are literally called to introspection by the sound of the shofar. The second stanza represents Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment that also heralds the joy and hope of a new heart and another chance to live a life of holiness. The third stanza represents Yom Kippur, when, after 40 days of introspection and one intense day of prayer and fasting, our spirits are renewed. Our hearts stir throughout these 40 days, but differently as the progression of themes and emotions lead us to new awareness, new behavior and new relationships with ourselves, with the world and with G-d.
Let Your Heart Stir
Breathe in the sound of the shofar.
Let the trumpet of our people
Be the voice of your heart.
For your soul knows the call.
Let your heart stir
And your eyes open, anew.
Taste the sweetness of the new year.
The delight of healing,
The joy of possibilities,
The pleasure of being.
Let your heart stir
And your eyes open, anew.
Exalt in the triumph of forgiveness.
Let the glory of repentance
Be the light of your days,
For your spirit knows the way home.
Let your heart stir
And your eyes open, anew.
© 2013 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.
Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul.
Return to who you are.
Return to what you are.
Return to where you are born and reborn.
The shofar is our ancient, animalistic alarm clock. Hearing it tells us to wake up and it's a mitzvah, a commandment to hear its call. We say the first blessing before the shofar is sounded, then we say shehecheyanu, the blessing for milestones, to mark the occasion.
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu lishmoa kol shofar.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has made us holy with commandments, and who has commanded us to hear the voice of the shofar.
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam shehecheyanu v’kiyimanu v’higiyanu lazman ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.