The month of Elul is a time of self-examination, preparation, and reflection. When Rosh Chodesh (new month) Elul arrives, so does our planning for the upcoming holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Many of us are naively complacent and too busy with life to slow down and contemplate our behaviors and choices from the previous year. Many of us do this constantly all year long. Whether you consider yourself spiritually minded or not, Elul is the perfect juncture to set aside time for self-scrutiny.
Here are some suggestions for embracing Elul:
Close your eyes so you can see. When we close our eyes, we start to see and listen to what is going on inside of us. Set aside three minutes each morning to sit with your eyes shut and listen to your soul.
Start a gratitude journal. Begin to take account of your life. A few moments each day is all it takes to make a list of that which you are grateful for. If you have children, invite them to participate as well. When we focus on being appreciative, we accentuate and focus on the positive elements of our lives.
Perform a life wheel review. Using a traditional life wheel or one that you create on your own – go through each spoke of the life wheel and identify how you can improve your life in each area. A sample life wheel might include: physical surroundings, intellectual/career, parental, spiritual, health, finances, and relationships.
Open up your Machzor. The High Holiday service contains special prayers not found in the Siddurim (prayer books) we use on a daily basis. Begin to delve into these prayers and become familiar with them. Find meaning in the holiday services before they begin.
Repent. This is the occasion to begin to seek forgiveness for wrongdoings committed throughout the year. To whom should you say, “I’m sorry”? Not only do we utter our apologies externally but we also give consideration to the changes that we need to make internally.
Return. The process of repentance involves returning to G-d, returning to the path that has been laid out before us. Listen to the shofar blasts each morning and consider the covenant, the Torah, and the essence of being Jewish. Create a new beginning in your Jewish expressions.
Gather your recipes. Begin to look through your cookbooks, explore online recipes, and talk to friends about their favorite food traditions. The food is as important to the holiday as the Machzor! Planning ahead will allow you to select recipes that match your family’s needs.
Write a drash for the holiday meals. Drash means search. Read a Jewish text pertinent to the holiday, and write a summary to share with family and friends. Find the relevance to modern times, explain a concept or story on a deeper level, or share something you learned that you did not know before.
For many Jews, the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mean a yearly trip to the synagogue. These holidays have remained important even when other religious practices have not. Make the High Holidays even more meaningful by preparing for them throughout the month of Elul.