From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
The Hebrew month of Elul begins this week. You might be asking yourself, “Is that when the weather turns cooler?” It’s unlikely, but it is the month that precedes Tishrei, the first day of which is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year 5784. And, you know well that from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, we begin an introspective period to account for our deeds and make atonement. Such an obligation, you would agree, requires some preparation. So, Elul is a whole month of getting ready, spiritually and personally.
Elul, the rabbis taught, can be read as an acronym. Each of the Hebrew letters in Elul (אלול) can become the first letters of “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li,” (אני לדודי ודודי לי), a verse from Song of Songs in the Hebrew Bible (6:3). The verse means, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” The acronym isn’t just coincidental. It highlights the theme of Song of Songs, which is an allegory of the love that God has for the people Israel. Therefore, the month reflects God’s love for our people and expectations that, though Tishrei is for repentance, we should anticipate that God’s love and mercy will outweigh God’s judgments and decrees.
In Judaism, God does not seek the death of the sinner; rather, that the sinner should repent and live (cf Ezekiel 18:23 & 33:11). Therefore, if God demonstrates love and mercy, then it must be for those who are not wholly righteous, but for those who will make amends. Indeed, God loves those who enter broken, who make amends, and who leave forgiven and hopeful. It’s a lifelong process through which we become the persons we were created to be. “Teshuvah,” or repentance, allows us, in our humility, to acknowledge what we failed to do and that we’re prepared to do better if we’re faced with the same or similar set of circumstances, again.
Such personal human hopefulness is a reason to prepare for High Holy Days without trepidation. A month to get ready leaves us plenty of time even if we procrastinate, but why wait? The process is meant to be weighty, but the outcome is already tipped in our favor. In response to our prayers, God says, “I pardon as you have asked” (Numbers 14:20). Ultimately, God is waiting for us. Are we ready to enter into God’s holy place and make amends, together? What happens if the Ten Days of Repentance begin, and we’re not prepared? The rabbis also taught that God meets us where we are to help us come the rest of the way.
To begin, all are invited to Selichot Services, on September 9th, for a brief service to welcome the theme of the High Holy Days and to change the Torah covers to their white mantels for the Holy Day season. Ready or not, we’ll be together soon, beginning with Rosh Hashanah on Friday evening, September 15, 2023, in the sanctuary at Congregation Beth Israel and on livestream. The full schedule is available online and will be arriving soon by mail.
As the weekend comes and Shabbat arrives, be safe and cool, and look ahead to a season of personal growth and renewal.