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Elul is Here

09/01/2023 05:00:00 PM


Rabbi Nat Ezray

Life seems to constantly change.

September used to be the time school began – but now many schools begin in August.

It used to be the time when summer ended – but now the weather is so chaotic – who knows what the month will bring.

Yet amidst all of this change, the Jewish calendar remains constant.

The month of Elul always comes in August/September. We sound the shofar each day during the month of Elul – spiritually waking us up and calling upon us to begin to prepare for the High Holidays. We reflect on characteristics we want to change and relationships we want to heal. We think about where we need to do teshuvah – turning/changing ourselves for the better.

My mentor Rabbi Sam Chiel loved to tell stories during Elul to help us think about its themes. One story was told Rabbi Chayim of Zans, a 19th century Hasidic rabbi to his students:

A man had been wandering in a forest for several days, not knowing which was the right way out. Suddenly, he saw a man approaching him. His heart filled with joy as he thought: “Now I shall find out which is the right way.”

He asked the man, “Which is the right way – I have been wandering about in this forest for several days.”

The man replied: “I don’t know the way out either. I, too, have been wandering here for many days. But this I can tell you: do not take the way I have been taking, for that will lead you astray. And now let us look for a new way out together.”

How do you interpret the story?

For me, this is how we have been looking for answers and salvation in many different areas. We often cast about – looking for answers and meaning in all the wrong places. Teshuvah – returning is finding the areas where we went down the wrong path and seeking another way. Where are those places for us?

The line: “Do not take the way I have been taking, for that will lead you astray. Now let us look for a new way together.” moves me. It reminds us to seek the company of others and learn with them as we explore new roads, behaviors and actions.

Rabbi Chiel taught that the story teaches us that sometimes the new way is really a very ancient and hallowed way. It is the values and mitzvot taught by Jewish tradition that keep us grounded and on the right path. Elul reminds us that there is a new way – the way of Torah and values - which provide direction and meaning.

May the shofar that sounds throughout the month of Elul awaken us to seek the right path.

Mon, March 4 2024 24 Adar I 5784