Ask the children in the Temple Beth Abraham Religious School and they will tell you: We blow shofar on Rosh Hashanah! And right they are. We do blow shofar on Rosh Hashanah and also at the end of Yom Kippur. But these are not the only times. We blow shofar every day for the entire month leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
Because the Jewish holidays are “late” this year (in October) we will have an opportunity while religious school classes are in session to focus greater attention not only on the High Holidays themselves, but also on the period of introspection and preparation leading up to them. That period is Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar, which this year overlaps most of September.
Elul is understood as the month in which we take a personal inventory, consider our past actions and ways of being in the world. We are meant to carve out time for personal reflection, to think about where we have come from and where we are going, where we have succeeded and where we have fallen short. We don’t simply jump into a new year – we prepare for it. As part of that training, each weekday morning during Elul we blow shofar.
The sound of the shofar is a call to repentance, to teshuvah. It is a call for us to return to our best and highest selves. It is a wake-up call, reminding us that we have real and important work to do. The shofar blast is a reminder to try again, to try harder. It is a reminder to give both ourselves and others another chance. It is a call to forgive others and to ask for forgiveness. The loud, piercing cry of the shofar recalls the cry of the heart. The sound awakens us from our routine; it startles and reminds us that the moment is now. We must act now. Our tradition asserts that personal change is possible. Transformation can happen in the very moment we hear the shofar. It will happen at any moment we say a wholehearted “Yes!” to making it so.
If these changes can happen in a single moment, why do we need a whole month for this process? Why aren’t Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur enough? Though teshuvah might happen in a moment, resolve to take the plunge takes time. Resolve requires time to reflect and draw courage, time to evaluate honestly the direction of our lives. In order to move in the right direction, we must pause to consider which direction to take. Like so many other areas in life, the more effort and determination we put into the project of preparing to be our best selves, the better our results are likely to be.
As we enter the month of Elul, may our self-reflections be fruitful and energize us. I wish you all a Shanah tovah – a good year. May we and our world enjoy health, happiness, prosperity and peace in the coming year, and may each of us draw closer to becoming the person we strive to be.