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Elul - Our Clergy's Reflection

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Elul, which begins on September 1 and ends on September 29, is an important month in the cycle of the Jewish year and in the life of the individual Jew. It is not important because of the holidays that occur during it, as there are none. Nor is it important because of the fast days it contains; again, there are none. Rather, as the month that leads up to the High Holy Days, Elul is a month of preparation, of introspection.

During Elul, we look inward and perform chesbon hanefesh — a process of reflection through which we take stock of who we are and who we would like to be. This month-long preparation is essential to making the most of the High Holy Day period because before we are able to face God, we must first face ourselves. We are asked to see ourselves honestly, and only then will we be able to discern how we might better ourselves in the year to come.

As we look to the year that lies ahead, we renew our annual commitment to strive to be better versions of ourselves. Judaism provides us with the ability and structure through which we can focus on attaining true shleimut (wholeness) which our sages understood to be wholeness of body, mind, and spirit. We are taught that we must dedicate energy and focus to each aspect of our being, for only when our mind, body, and spirit are in sync can we be the truest, most authentic versions of ourselves.

The month of Elul is the perfect time for all of us at Washington Hebrew Congregation to embark on a collective spiritual journey that will take us well beyond the High Holy Days. Over the course of this coming year, through learning, rituals, and practice, we will strive for shleimut as individuals and as a community.

Jewish tradition teaches that teshuvah (repentance/returning) is a kindness we show to ourselves by turning from our past deeds, forgiving ourselves, and forgiving others for words and deeds that hurt us. How can we demonstrate such kindness? We can do this through reflection, acts of gratitude, and committing to creating a practice of expressing gratitude not just at the New Year but every day. A simple way to begin is by taking a moment each day to reflect on three things for which you are grateful — perhaps a person in your life, an uplifting moment, or an instance when you witnessed the beauty of God’s creation.

To guide you through the month of Elul, each week we will share readings, meditations, and resources that focus on a different aspect of our being. The offerings, which you can find here our website and through opt-in emails and text messages, will contain prayers, readings, and practices that can be contemplated and practiced throughout the week.

In addition to the digital resources we will share with you, there are several rituals and practices that are traditionally observed during the month of Elul. Reciting Psalm 27 each morning assures us of God’s presence in our lives as we face our inner self with honesty and insight. If you own a shofar, sounding it each morning can serve as a spiritual wakeup call as well.

When you join us at Temple for Shabbat services during Elul, you will also get to experience meaningful elements from our new High Holy Day prayer book, Mishkan HaNefesh, to help prepare us for the Days of Awe.

We look forward to traveling the path toward shleimut with you.

B'shalom,
  Rabbi Shankman and Cantor Bortnick

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