Blessings For A New Year
In the Jewish calendar, we are quickly approaching the middle of Elul, the last month of the year.
Elul is a month of transcendence, a time for growth and reflection. We are taught that during the month of Elul, the King (G-d) leaves his lofty place in the palace to come spend time with us common folk in the fields. Although one has access to the King the whole year round, the rules of the game change when he comes to spend personal, individualized time with his people. The boundaries have changed, but only slightly. Now is the time to make a difference, one that could in impact the rest of the year.
With less than 14 days left to the year, I am left scared and confused…I suddenly feel the need to run for my life. It’s a cycle: Every year, Elul creeps up on me and scares the living day lights out of me, causing me to fall into a wild fury while I try to catch my breath in enough time to welcome the new year with a bit of dignity. I take my time with these thoughts during the year, but now standing upon the threshold of a new beginning, I once again find myself scrambling to make it to the finish line with a pleasant, peaceful state of mind.
What is it about Elul that makes people shake in their boots? Why do we suddenly have more reverence and fear than we do the rest of the year?
If anything, the month of Elul should really mirror or emulate the behavior that one follows throughout the year, but that hardly seems to be the case. Shouldn’t a person take time daily to look at themselves and the life they lead and reflect? Shouldn’t change and growth be a year round exercise? For many it is…but it seems that for most it is not.
I watch every year as people around me go into hyper active ” I want to be better” mode. Suddenly, they make more time for learning and spiritual growth. They find more time to spend with family and friends that they might otherwise ignore. They fall to their knees and beg G-d to forgive them for their sins and bless them with a fresh start. And, why shouldn’t they? Elul is a month of reflection. It is absolutely appropriate for them to look back on their past year and do “damage control.”
As we approach a new (and G-d willing healthy and happy) year, it is incredibly important to sit down and drink in events of the year that has passed; to completely internalize it all in order to make a path for change for the year to come. So, one sits and reflects, meditates and concentrates on the wrongs he has committed, the rights he has happily done; the moments of happiness and the moments of lesser things. They make it their goal in the month of Elul to truly make an impression on the soul, let it feel the imprints of prayer that they hope will last through the year.
And suddenly, Elul is over and you find yourself on the threshold of Rosh Hashana. You spent your days praying continuously for every need and want. Rosh Hashana quickly runs into Yom Kippur, and before you know it, the month is over, and you are back into a normal routine. And though you made an impression on the soul, slowly but surely these impressions fade away. The mark stays, it just becomes less visible. The year progresses and you find yourself at point A again, too tired or lazy to make a change.
And then, all of a sudden Elul comes back. Suddenly, you feel inspired and upbeat. You want to change; you want this year to be different.
It’s a cycle.
I didn’t want this Elul to be a “drive by.” Every year, Elul tends to show up almost out of nowhere, thus rendering me immobile and completely ill prepared for the focus that such a month demands. It blows in with the tide of a new school year, the end of Summer (and thus, the end of freedom). With millions of other things on my mind, many years, Elul becomes merely background noise.
I wanted to know that I was entering a new year having made a proper reflection of the past year, and make resolutions for the year to come. Traditionally, on the night before Rosh Hashana, my friends and I sit down and conquer up large, almost unattainable resolutions for our new years. We make them with slight unease, almost as though we are openly admitting to the fact that we cannot and will not fulfill them. If we manage to try them at all, they usually do not last very long. So, what I have begun to do in recent years is take on resolutions for a day at a time. I’ve found those resolutions to be much more affective than long term, unmotivated goals. I used to let the build of inspiration be my driving force behind my days, but inspiration does not usually stay around forever.
“Yesterday, you were inspired. Today, that is all gone. And so, you are depressed.
But this is the way the system works: Everything begins with inspiration. Then the inspirations steps aside—to make room for you to do something with it. For fire to become deeds.”
A fresh start does not mean that the person that you were a year ago (or merely a moment ago) is gone, or that they have changed. Having a fresh start means that you can learn from your mistakes, work to make a change, and maintain a healthy balance at the same time. It’s not about making the most changes in the least amount of time possible, because that obviously doesn’t work. Deciding that you want to make a difference in your life is only the beginning. Making Elul the sole time of the year to make a difference will not help you reach a long time goal (although, having the proper drive and focus during such a time with surely help).So, with the last 15 days of Elul (tick tock, tick tock) left, ask yourself: What can I do on a daily basis to bring meaning into my life? How can I make the inspirations of Elul a permanent part of my year? How can I make small resolutions in order to achieve long time goals?