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August 14, 2015  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

The High Holiday marathon

Director of Spriritual Care, Menorah Manor

Don’t Blink! The High Holy Days are right around the corner! How is it possible that the year has flown so quickly? Weren’t we just here not so long ago? We are often stunned at how rapidly the years seem to pass.

It has often been said that the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, are more of a marathon than a sprint. For anyone who runs, either competitively or just to keep in shape, you know that training for a 50-yard dash is entirely different from training for a 26.2 mile sustained run. The similarities lie in the ways in which the athlete prepares; certain foods are eaten to achieve optimum body composition, muscles are stretched to avoid injury, and proper shoes, clothing and protective gear are worn for comfort and safety. When the gun goes off to signal the beginning of the race, the runner is warmed up and ready to go, giving themselves the greatest likelihood for success.

Our Jewish “marathon” begins this year on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 5 when we recite the penitential prayers for Selichot. These verses will become very familiar to us over the next several weeks as they are often repeated throughout the liturgy in our Machzor. The prayers serve as preparation for the many hours of demanding worship in which we will soon become engaged.

Judaism offers us a wonderful “warm-up” period that comes in the form of the month of Elul, the entire Hebrew month preceding Tishre during which Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall. Beginning this year at sundown on Aug. 15, Elul paves the way for the intensity that is to come. There are the 29 days throughout which we perform Cheshbon haNevesh, an accounting of our soul. We review the past year and the ways in which we may have wronged others and “missed the mark” in being the best that we could be. We perform teshuvah, the act of returning to our better selves by acknowledging our wrongdoing to those whom we have hurt and asking forgiveness. We become more cognizant of our behavior and promise to not repeat the harm which we might have inflicted before. In all these ways, Elul becomes the “stretching” before the big race and serves to add meaning to the Days of Awe.

The ancient rabbis noted that the word Elul itself, shows what God had intended in giving us these 29 days for preparation. In Hebrew, Elul is spelled Aleph, Lamed, Vahv, Lamed. These are also the first four letters of the verse from Song of Songs, “Ani l’dodi, v’dodi li,” I am My Beloved’s and my Beloved is Mine.” The rabbis tell us then, that the month Elul is actually a gift from God to the Jewish people in the form of a love poem, showing God’s affection for us and allowing us this period of reflection. We are able to get some of the “training” done without having to enter the main event without having “warmed-up.” This is indeed a gift, one for which we should be grateful and use to our best ability.

Here’s wishing you a Sweet New Year filled with health, happiness and peace!

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board.

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