Elul: Why is this month different from all other months?

The beauty of the Jewish calendar is the flow from season to season, from holiday to holiday – from festival to festival.
One of the months is Elul, a time of reflection that began on August 12 and leads up to Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year.
Elul is unique for a variety of reasons. I like that it includes a built-in reminder that the High Holy Days are approaching. Wake up calls come in many different forms, from blaring alarm clocks to gentle music, with multiple opportunities to hit the snooze button, and we can choose our own interpretation.
Elul is the connection between where we currently stand and the year to come, so it is a fitting tradition to hear the shofar blast each morning of Elul. The shofar, which can be a horn from a ram or any kosher animal, is traditionally blown as a call for repentance. Imagine if we all used this Hebrew month for both personal and communal reflection and forgiveness.
On an individual level, the world we live in is moving so fast, with multiple responsibilities and a constant barrage of information. It is no wonder we can’t slow down enough to be reflective. What a great idea it is for each of us to look for ways throughout the month to listen for the wake-up call and reflect on how we spent the past year. It could include time with our children or spouse, celebrations, caring for aging parents, volunteering or learning a new skill.
During Elul, there are key questions we can ask ourselves: How might we use our time differently in the coming year? How do we ensure that those around us how important they truly are?
Since my days in Sunday school and youth group, I have always liked this time of year. I embraced apologizing to those I had let down or treated unfairly in the past year. This is what Elul is all about.
Elul affords each of us a chance to acknowledge and heed the call to action …or we can hit the snooze button.
At the beginning of Elul, the Zohar teaches, we are achor el achor (back to back); by its end, we are panim el panim (face to face). What a gift it is to recognize that we cannot improve or build stronger relationships when we turn our backs to one another. Let’s all embrace this new year of 5779, and this month, as a time to be willing to turn around towards each other and make changes.
Shanah Tovah.

(Sara Wagner is president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville.)

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