ELUL 5780 – PREPARING FOR THE HIGH HOLY DAYS
KETIVAH V’CHATIMAH TOVAH
- Of David.
The Eternal One is my light and my help;
whom should I fear?
The Eternal One is the stronghold of my life,
whom should I dread?
- When evil men assail me
to devour my flesh—
it is they, my foes and my enemies,
who stumble and fall.
- Should an army besiege me,
my heart would have no fear;
should war beset me,
still would I be confident.
- One thing I ask of the Eternal One,
only that do I seek:
to live in the house of the Eternal One
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Eternal One,
to frequent God’s temple.
- God will shelter me in God’s pavilion
on an evil day,
grant me the protection of God’s tent,
raise me high upon a rock.
- Now is my head high
over my enemies roundabout;
I sacrifice in God’s tent with shouts of joy,
singing and chanting a hymn to the Eternal One.
- Hear, O Eternal One, when I cry aloud;
have mercy on me, answer me.
- In Your behalf my heart says:
“Seek My face!”
O Eternal One, I seek Your face.
- Do not hide Your face from me;
do not thrust aside Your servant in anger;
You have ever been my help.
Do not forsake me, do not abandon me,
O God, my deliverer.
- Though my father and mother abandon me,
the Eternal One will take me in.
- Show me Your way, O Eternal One,
and lead me on a level path
because of my watchful foes.
- Do not subject me to the will of my foes,
for false witnesses and unjust accusers
have appeared against me.
- Had I not the assurance
that I would enjoy the goodness of the Eternal One
in the land of the living…
- Look to the Eternal One;
be strong and of good courage!
O look to the Eternal One!
Since Rabbinic times, if a month has thirty days, such as the current month of Av, the thirtieth day is observed as Rosh Chodesh together with the next day, the first of the following month. Hence, Rosh Chodesh Elul is two days, with 1 Elul starting the evening of Thursday, August 20, 2020.
The Month of Elul
This Jewish month marks the period of soul-searching leading up to the High Holidays.
By Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer
Although the month of Elul — the sixth month of the Jewish year, which immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah — has no special importance in the Bible or in early rabbinic writings, various customs arose sometime during the first millennium that designated Elul as the time to prepare for the High Holy Days. Because these days are filled with so much meaning and potency, they require a special measure of readiness. We are called upon to enter them thoughtfully and to consider what they mean. As the Maharal of Prague* said, “All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into his soul and search his deeds, that he may make confession.”
Yehudah Loew of Prague [1525-1609], also known as the Maharal [“Moreinu Ha-Rav Loew” (“Our Teacher, Rabbi Loew”]…. Ironically, he is credited with the creation of a golem, an activity he would probably have opposed.]
The name of the month Elul (אֱלוּל), like the names of the rest of the Hebrew calendar months, was brought from the Babylonian captivity, and originated from the Akkadian word for “Harvest”.
[A] social custom is to begin or end all letters written during the month of Elul with wishes that the recipient have a good year. The standard blessing is [“Ketivah Vechatima Tovah” (“a good writing and sealing”)], meaning that the person should be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year. Tradition teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, each person is written down for a good or a poor year, based on their actions in the previous one, and their sincere efforts at atoning for mistakes or harm. On Yom Kippur, that fate is “sealed.”
5 Things to Know About Elul, the Month Leading Up to the High Holidays
Some say that the Hebrew letters that comprise the word Elul [אֱלוּל] – aleph, lamed, vav, lamed – are an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” a verse from Song of Songs that means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Most often interpreted as love poetry between two people, the phrase also reflects the love between God and the Jewish people, especially at this season, as we assess our actions and behaviors during the past year and hope for blessings in the coming year.
Several customs during the month of Elul are designed to remind us of the liturgical season and help us prepare ourselves and our souls for the upcoming High Holidays.
- BLOWING THE SHOFAR
Traditionally, the shofar is blown each morning (except on Shabbat) from the first day of Elul until the day before Rosh HaShanah. Its sound is intended to awaken the soul and kick start the spiritual accounting that happens throughout the month. In some congregations the shofar is sounded at the opening of each Kabbalat Shabbat service during Elul. [Temple Kol Hamidbar will do so as part of our weekly Shazoom Services.]
- SAYING SPECIAL PRAYERS
Selichot (special penitential prayers) are recited during the month of Elul. A special Selichot service is conducted late in the evening – often by candlelight – on the Saturday night a week before Rosh HaShanah [Ashkenazi tradition]. [In Sefardic tradition, S’lichot are recited every morning during all the month of Elul.]
- VISITING LOVED ONES’ GRAVES
Elul is also a time of year during which Jews traditionally visit the graves of loved ones. This custom not only reminds us of the individuals on whose shoulders we now stand and helps us honor their memories, but also prompts us to think about our own lives and the legacies we will leave to others – kind words spoken, comfort offered, love given and received – which take on added meaning as we enter the High Holiday season. Rabbi Daniel B. Syme explains more about this custom. https://reformjudaism.org/learning/answers-jewish-questions/why-it-customary-visit-loved-ones-graves-or-during-high-holidays
- READING PSALM 27
It is customary to read Psalm 27 each day from the beginning of Elul through Hoshana Rabbah, which is the last day of Sukkot.
It also is a month during which we are encouraged to study and take time for personal reflection around our actions of the past year and to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged or with whom we otherwise have “missed the mark” in our interactions and behaviors. Many readily available resources can help you make this process interactive.
May you find meaning and fulfillment in this time leading up to the High Holidays.
Where will each of us be a hundred years from now? What will the world look like and how will Reform Judaism adapt? While living to 100 is within the realm of probabilities given my personal family history and genetics (another 33 to go), it is more likely that most of us living today, including newborns, will be gone by a hundred years from now.
Although born a male in this lifetime and certainly far from directly experiencing anything like it, we seem to be in the throes of labor pains. We only need to look at what is happening in any number of areas – e.g., politics, government, health, society, religion – to see that we are in a time of great upheaval and transformation.
Given Reform Judaism’s values and revising traditions as needed, its ability to adapt to circumstances as attested to in the last few months make it uniquely able to not only survive but continue to thrive during the next 100 years. I suspect that genuinely great world leaders will emerge and that new ways of looking at life and being in the world will take root and begin to blossom. And so, as individuals what do we do in the meantime?
In words taken from this coming Shabbat’s Torah Portion, Shof’tim: “Tzedek, tzedek, tir’dof (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף) Justice, justice shall you follow”, Deut. 16:20. It is important that we continue to strive to live ethical and moral lives, which will make a difference for ourselves and the future. That includes examining ourselves and making any necessary changes during this month of Elul and the coming High Holy Days.
HIGH HOLY DAYS
For a variety of significant reasons, Temple Kol Hamidbar has decided to forego providing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services this year either in person or online.
However, we will have a Shazoom for Shabbat Shuvah on Friday, September 25, 2020, and a special Zoom gathering after Yom Kippur to Break-the-Fast at 6 PM on Monday, September 28, 2020. The Break-the-Fast event will include sounding a Shofar recently donated in memory of Samuel Klein, Havdalah, and an opportunity to schmooze and nosh virtually with members of our community. What is available otherwise?
To help make the High Holy Days as meaningful as possible, the Union for Reform Judaism and various congregations within the Reform Movement are providing free online services and resources during the month of Elul and the High Holy Days to anyone interested in participating. As a result, Temple Kol Hamidbar is providing the following websites for individuals to access. You may need to visit them more than once for the latest information and/or schedules.
Temple Emanu-El in Tucson, AZ https://www.tetucson.org/
Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA https://www.oaklandsinai.org/
The Union for Reform Judaism https://urj.org/
Ketivah Vechatima Tovah,