...preparing our hearts for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur
From exhaustion to renewal and from abandonment to love. There is a need and a time for every season and Elul is the season most auspicious for tshuvah. Though we often hear the word tshuvah translated as repentance, it literally means return. "Creation is in the act of tshuvah as the process of returning to it's Source"(1). It is said that tshuvah preceeded the Creation of the world. Thus Elul the month of tshuvah proceeds Rosh HaShanah, the day which marks the birth of Adam, the first man (the 25th of Elul is said to be the 1st day of Creation).
What is the purpose of 'man' on earth? To begin to fathom this we must make a Heshbon Nefesh, an accounting of and for our Soul. We make this accounting in 3 areas simultaneously. First with Gd, how have we acted in opposition to His purpose for our lives? Regret is the first step towards change. Second, we acknowledge the ways in which we have done damage to our souls through our actions. And third, with confession, a verbalization of our regrets, we ask forgiveness from others we have wronged, accepting another's apology as we would want ours to be accepted.
This is a solitary process making for a lonely time. But we are not alone, 'the King is in the Field'. Gd is never nearer to us than now. It is the perfect time for this work. One is never too far to return to the Source of Life. "Tshuvah is as plentiful and accessible as air: we need only breathe deeply to draw it in..." (2) With every act of tshuvah we rebuild our relationship with Gd. The very name of this month, Elul, is translated as the Hebrew acronym, 'I am my Beloved's and My Beloved is Mine'.
There are some special customs for this period. The Shofar is blown every morning, except on Shabbat and the last day of the month, to stir our hearts to action. Special pentitential prayers called Selichot are also said during all or a part of this period, depending on your tradition, at midnight, the time when the heavens are most open to prayer. And we read Psalm 27 after every service. Psalm 27 is a plea to Gd for help when we are beset by enemies. May our work and our service raise us above the enemy within, who steals us from our true path.
'Billboard' photo by Elsa Katana, Baltimore 1999
"The Book of Our Heritage" Eliyahu Kitov
Chabad in Cyberspace, Week in Review Vol X No 47, August 1999 (2)
Eliezer Shore for "A Still Small Voice" 1988 (1)
"Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days" Kerry M Olitzky and Rachel T Sabath
"Seasons of Joy" Aurthur Waskow