A Time of Deep Reflection
Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. (Lamentations 3:40).
Summer is coming to an end, and the High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) – are just around the corner. Although many people consider these holidays to be “Jewish holidays,” they are, in fact, God’s holy days and festivals.
As such, they are relevant to everyone.
The month prior to the High Holy Days, Elul, is the last month of the Jewish calendar year. Tradi>onally, the en>re month is a “preparatory period” – a time of introspection, stocktaking, genuine repentance and drawing closer to the Lord in advance of the High Holy Days. Some have even suggested it is a type of Jewish Lent. Below are a few traditional Elul customs designed to help Jews prepare for the High Holy Days:
Following morning services, the shofar (ram’s horn) is customarily blown each morning throughout the month (except on Shabbat), as a call to repentance. The sound is intended to rouse people from complacency and jolt them into repenting of their sins.
Psalm 27, which speaks of the assurance of God’s protection and includes a plea that God would not forsake His people, is typically recited each day from the start of Elul through the last day of Sukkot (the Festival of Tabernacles/Booths).
Special penitential prayers called selichot (meaning forgiveness) are recited during Elul. The Hebrew word selichot is related to slichah (meaning I’m sorry, excuse me, and forgive me). Although we strive to live a pure and holy life before God, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Elul is a time in which forgiveness is requested from those a person has wronged. Additionally, forgiveness is also offered to those a person has mistreated.
Visiting the graves of loved ones is a custom that both helps honor the memory of those now departed and helps realign people’s priorities by prompting individuals to focus on what truly matters and the legacies they want to leave to others.
Taking time for personal reflection is critical. Elul is meant to be a time for introspection and contemplation regarding one’s attitudes and actions throughout the past year – a time for a spiritual readjustment, so to speak, so that the year ahead is more closely aligned with God’s will and plan.
Thus, Elul is a time to discover, restore, and recommit to a strong relationship with God. It’s a time to also reflect upon other relationships in your life – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others.
May we, too, use this time of year as a time of deep reflection, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal things we need to change in our own lives, and then prayerfully committing to making those needed changes. It is truly freeing to go to the Lord, ask for and receive forgiveness, leave the past behind, and move forward following His will and plan for one’s life!