If you pay attention to the moon, you may have noticed that it's been waning in recent weeks. The full moon of Av (on the Jewish calendar), the full moon of Ramadan (on the Muslim calendar), has been steadily shrinking. As surely as waves roll out and then roll back in again, now it's time for the moon to start growing. Today is new moon, Rosh Chodesh Elul. One month until the Days of Awe.
Here's a thing I love about our calendar: every thing is connected to something else. None of our festivals or holy days arise out of nowhere, sudden surprises after a turn in the road. If you pay attention to the unfolding of the calendar, the cycle of the year always takes you from Tisha b'Av to Rosh Chodesh Elul, to Rosh Hashanah, to Yom Kippur, to Sukkot, and on, and on, eventually leading us right back to where we started again.
Here's another thing I love: it's always possible to start paying attention, to become mindful, to dive in, wherever we are. Maybe you haven't been counting the seven weeks between Tisha b'Av and Rosh Hashanah -- nu, no big deal; start now, four weeks before the new year! You can always begin to prepare. It's always open to you. Start now, as the moon begins to wax, and when it wanes -- as it will inevitably do -- feel your heart and soul quicken with the approaching Days of Awe.
During this lunar month, we get ourselves ready. I don't just mean festooning our machzorim (high holiday prayerbooks) with sticky notes and melody reminders, though surely those of us who lead High Holiday davenen are well-immersed in that at this point in the year. I mean preparing our hearts and souls for the introspection of the season. Doing the inner work of Elul, which is the work of teshuvah. (Some say: Elul is the month for external teshuvah, doing the work of repentance and return in the external facets of our lives -- our relationships with others -- and the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the time for the internal work and for repairing our relationship with God.)
I love that our tradition gives us a whole month to prepare ourselves for the Days of Awe. On your marks, get set, go -- now! But remember that this isn't a sprint; it's more of a spiritual marathon. It's all month long. Start looking back on the year that's about to end. Where have you lived up to your hopes and expectations; where have you fallen short? What is the teshuvah work you're going to need to do in order to try to do better in the year to come?
Are there relationships in your life which need some tikkun, some repair, before the Days of Awe? Our tradition teaches that Yom Kippur can atone for the misdeeds which injure the relationship between a person and God, but for misdeeds which injure the relationship between two people, before we seek God's forgiveness we have to humble ourselves and ask the other person's forgiveness. What's the work ahead of you on that front?
It's one short lunar month until Rosh Hashanah, until we come together in community (many of us, in communities which have suddenly swelled in size), until we come together before God on the Day of Remembrance. What would it take for you to feel truly prepared?
This post is part of #BlogElul 5773 / 2013, a month-long themed blogburst orchestrated by imabima. I can't promise that I'll post every day, but I hope to share at least a few posts on these themes over the month to come. For other people's posts on these themes, search using the #BlogElul hashtag.