First, let me address the issue of whether the High Holy Days are “early” this year. For the Gregorian calendar, yes, it is early. Note that the Gregorian calendar was put into effect for the entire Catholic world by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 with a papal bull. For the Jewish calendar, no, the dates are falling on the usual date. The Gregorian calendar is solar and the Jewish calendar is lunar with adjustments. So you can say, “the holidays are early this year and also right on time.”
Now about the approaching Days of Awe, Rabbi Larry Milder emailed his congregation about the coming month of Elul when Jews traditionally prepare for the magnitude of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Here are his words.
A Time for Turning
One of my favorite prayers for this season is by Rabbi Jack Riemer:
“Now is the time for turning…For leaves, birds and animals turning comes instinctively. But for us…it takes an act of will.”
This Monday will be the first day of the month of Elul, the month of preparation.
The High Holy Days are always special, but for these days to be transformative, we need to get into a transformative frame of mind.
That’s what Elul is for. These next few weeks are the season for us to consider our lives, our relationships, our aspirations. Are we moving in the right direction? What has the last year taught us, with its many restrictions and limited options? Have we come to understand something more important about ourselves, about those we love, about what we hope to do with the time we have?
Judaism teaches us to pay attention, not simply to be carried forward on a river of time.
During the month of Elul, we bring these themes to the forefront of our prayers. You will find them beautifully presented in our prayer book for this month, Mishkan Halev, “Sanctuary of the Heart,” which we will begin using (in-person) next Shabbat.
The prayer concludes, “And turn us toward each other, for in isolation, there is no life.” How deeply we have come to realize that truth. Each of us has a personal journey to make, but we are strengthened when we travel together.
Rabbi Larry Milder
Whether you are Jewish or not, whether you believe in God or not, you can still choose to use this time to reflect on the year we have just experienced. So much has changed. What do we want to come back “the same”? What of the new do we embrace? How should each of us alter our behavior to be our best selves in the coming year?
I propose two things for every single one of us:
Express compassion more.
Use plastic less.