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Roadmap for Elul

08/29/2022 11:04:51 PM


Rabbi Paul Swerdlow


With Rabbi Paul Swerdlow

Elul – A time to complete unfinished business: August 28 – September 25

Our journey begins a month before Rosh Hashanah. We are about to close the page on another
year. Before we do, we have some unfinished business. Begin the month by listing everything
that we would like to accomplish before the shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashanah. Once we
have completed the list, decide what we would like to accomplish that week. At the beginning
of each week during Elul, review the list and select what to do in the coming week. Be sure to
give attention to those items about which we have procrastinated.
Selichot – A time to forgive yourself

September 17

The ten days of repentance is our opportunity to forgive others and ask others to forgive us. On
Yom Kippur, we seek God’s forgiveness. Why do we need another service on the Saturday
before Rosh Hashanah for forgiveness? It is because forgiveness must begin with forgiving
oneself. The first step is to acknowledge that we have done something wrong. If we stop there,
we only have created guilt that punishes. A second step is required. Ask ourselves, what lesson
have we learned. This is guilt that teaches. When we face the same situation again, we shall do
the right thing. When we have acknowledged our wrongdoing and have learned from it, we can
then ask for forgiveness.

Rosh Hashanah – A time to let go: September 26

It is the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah and we find ourselves at the water, casting our bread
upon the water. Traditionally this represents the casting out of our sins. But it is much more. It
is letting go of that which holds us back. This could be many things. It could be a bad habit that
affects our health. It could be a grudge that eats away at us. It could be a guilt that we have
allowed to fester rather than to learn from it. It could be a fear that prevents us from doing
what we want to do. What is holding us back from being the best we can be? As we cast the
bread upon the water, we resolve to let go so that we may move forward in this New Year.

Ten Days of Repentance – A time to forgive and be forgiven: September 26 – October 5

We are taught that before we can approach God to ask forgiveness, we must approach those
we have wronged and seek their forgiveness. When others approach us for forgiveness, we
need to forgive. We use the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to forgive and be
forgiven. This seems simple enough, but questions arise. What if I ask for forgiveness but the
person whom I have asked refuses to give me that forgiveness? In the Book of Samuel, it says
that “man sees only the outward appearance, but God sees into the heart.” If our request for
forgiveness is sincere and if we have learned from our mistakes, we have fulfilled our obligation
even if the wronged person refuses to grant forgiveness. Do I have to be asked for forgiveness
before granting it? Absolutely not! Do not let these feelings that we have been wronged fester
in us. Acknowledge our feelings and address them. There are a few ways to do this. We may
accept this as an imperfection in someone whom we do like. We may ask ourselves, what is it
about me that make his/her action bother me? We may share our feelings with the one whose
action upsets us.

Yom Kippur – A time to love: October 5

It is said that we are little lower than the angels and yet little higher than the beasts of the field.
On Yom Kippur, we forego our physical needs and focus on our spiritual needs. There is no
greater spiritual need than love. During Yizkor, we remember those whom we loved and as we
recall the beautiful memories we once shared, we know that the love we shared survives the
grave. When two people love each other when they are together, the love is there when they
are apart and so that feeling of love does not cease even at death.
At every service, we speak of our love for God and God’s love for us. Sitting beside us at the
service is someone whom we love. Have we said to him/her I love you? You cannot say it
enough in word and in deed. Tell them “I love you.” Say it again and again and again. Never take
it for granted.

Sukkot – A time to give thanks: October 10 – October 17

Sukkot has been compared to Thanksgiving. We enter the Sukkah to greet the Ushpizim, our
honored ancestors. As we remember them, we give thanks for the sacrifices they made and the
values they left as their inheritance that make us the people we are today. We raise the lulav
(the palm, willow, and myrtle) and the etrog (like a lemon) and shake it to the east and to the
north, to the south and the west, up and down. With the lulav and etrog we are reaching out to
God to say thank you. As we leave the Sukkah, having reached up to God and back to our
ancestors to say thank you, we reach out to those who have made a difference in our lives
during the past year. Identify at least five people who have made a significant difference in our
lives during the past year and say thank you and tell them why we appreciate what they have
done. Do this during the period between the first two days of Sukkot and Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah – A time to open up: October 18

The holiday season is ending. We read the final verses of the book of Deuteronomy and
immediately follow it with the reading of the first verses of Genesis. We have ended and are
beginning again. So too we have ended the old year and are ready to begin a new year. A new
beginning offers the promise of new possibilities. For us, it is a time to welcome this
opportunity to meet new challenges and new adventures – to continue to grow from strength to strength.

*Please note that the holiday begins at sunset the evening before the dates

Thu, April 18 2024 10 Nisan 5784