The Month of Elul

Spiritual Preparation for the Days of Awe

Michael Sheltzer

Co-Director of Religious Practice

The cycle of the Jewish year is an amazing creation and deeper participation in it can not only increase our appreciation for our traditions, it can carry us to higher places and profound awareness of awe and wonder in the world.  In short, it can make us better people and our world a better place.  It is true that one can jump on the cycle at any time of the year, but the month of Elul, which begins August 19 this year is perhaps the perfect time to connect or reconnect with the Jewish year. 

Let’s face it, most of us could be more committed to our Jewish lives and there are a number of us who may be “once-a-year-Jews,” only showing up to the synagogue for the High Holy Days.  I am not being critical, but merely making an observation and stating the obvious-- and I hasten to add that it is a wonderful thing that we place such significance on these traditions at this most Holy time of year.  So, how can we make this once-a-year pilgrimage to synagogue more meaningful or if we attend more regularly, how can we deepen our High Holy Day experience?

Consider the fact that prayer is a discipline, a practice, and that the more we do it, the better and more comfortable we become and the more meaningful our participation can be and the “safer” our experience as we soar to ever higher spiritual realms .  Let’s say that you want to run a marathon.  It would be crazy to lace up your brand new running shoes and start the race without any training or preparation.  It wouldn’t be much fun after the first mile or so and would be downright painful or even dangerous to try to finish the race.  To have a successful and meaningful marathon experience, you have to train; you need a warm-up and a trial run.  The prayer experience during the High Holy Days can feel like a marathon to the untrained and that is one of the reasons that the Rabbis suggested that the entire month of Elul, the entire month prior to Rosh Hashanah, should be a time of self-reflection and preparation (or training) for the main event, culminating on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

What follows are some suggestions for how to “train” for the Days of Awe.  Most come from traditional sources and none of them are original with me.  Consider incorporating some of them in a daily practice leading up to the High Holy Days.  I plan to get into better “spiritual shape” with some of them myself.  It helps to train (pray) together and perhaps hear the shofar wakeup call together during the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah.  If you care to join me, let me know and perhaps we can make it happen.

I wish for us all this year a period of spiritual growth and teshuvah or return to what is most basic and important to our lives as Jews. 

Go to the link below to begin your Elul "training":