We've entered into the month of Elul, the month which leads in to the Days of Awe. It's traditional this month to read Psalm 27 each day (I posted my favorite translation, by Reb Zalman, a few years ago) and to begin intensively doing the work of teshuvah, turning-toward-God, aligning our lives in the right direction again in anticipation of the coming new year.
Elul poses some new challenges for me this year. This is my first year as a mother and a working rabbi, both. My friend R' Shai Gluskin tweeted me the other day with his wish that we, and all who connect to Jewish time, should have the gevurah (strength / good boundaries) to make time for our own spiritual work during this month. I think that's going to be my biggest challenge.
This is a month for doing the spiritual work of discernment. Where am I doing the right things, aiming in the right direction, and where could I be better aligned with holiness? These are perennial questions -- which is why Jewish tradition suggests answering them each week (before Shabbat) and each month (before Yom Kippur Katan, the day of moon-dark which precedes new moon.) But they take on new urgency at this season, as we prepare to make a full accounting of our souls during the Days of Awe.
A few years ago I wrote:
Between the beginning of Elul and Yom Kippur there are forty days, and the rabbis found significance in the number. (I write about this every year; forgive me if you've heard this before.) The flood lasted for forty days. Moshe spent forty days atop Sinai receiving the Torah from God. (In the Christian understanding, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert.) In the early rabbinic imagination, forty was understood as the number of weeks between conception and childbirth. So forty represents something growing from inception to fruition. If Elul and the Ten Days of Teshuvah which follow are our season for walking in the fields with the divine Beloved, what exactly are we tending? What do we hope to harvest forty days from now on Yom Kippur, the day when tradition says the gates between us and God are all opened?
What I like about all of this is that the Days of Awe don't arise out of nowhere. They're not random blips on the calendar, great looming mountains on an otherwise flat horizon. We're supposed to be aware that they're coming. As this month's moon grows and shrinks, we have the chance to get ready. To consider what's working well in our lives, and where we could be doing better. How's your relationship with your body: are you caring for it the way you want to be? What are the currents and undercurrents in your emotional life and your relationships with others? Are you thinking about the big issues that atter to you, and telling the important stories you want to tell? Where are you at spiritually, and where would you like to be?
They're still good questions. Still questions I want, and need, to be asking myself this month. I'm going to strive to ask them, no matter how long my to-do list looms.