Rabbi Mark Wildes from Manhattan spoke to me several days ago and asked: “Do those in Israel also know that our 40-day challenge begins now?” He has just published a book: The 40 Day Challenge: Daily Jewish Insights to Prepare for the High Holidays. The purpose of the book is to awaken us to what is going on in the world at large and within our own lives. As he explains:
Rosh Chodesh Elul is a reminder that Yom Kippur will arrive in 40 days. The question is not only what the status of the corona virus will be on Yom Kippur, but what our status will be as well. What do we find in our lives and in our character that needs to be changed or improved? What do we want to be when the Holy Day of Yom Kippur arrives or, for that matter, throughout the new year?
Our spiritual boot camp begins now. Each year we are presented with an opportunity to implement changes and generate improvements in our lives. This is a most ancient idea: These are the very same 40 days in which Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Mount Sinai to ask that the people be pardoned for the sin of the golden calf. On Yom Kippur, the day of forgiveness and atonement, Moshe came down again to the Jewish people with the second set of tablets in his hand.
We too can access the powerful potential of these days – from the 1st of Elul to the 10th of Tishrei – and resolve to work on a specific area: from marriage, education of our children, learning, prayer, and character refinement to the relationship we have with our cell phone. It is unlikely that a sudden decision to make a certain change will be effective overnight. But a daily gradual progression toward change over a period of 40 days may be successful.
Have a good month and may we all enjoy success at meeting this 40-day challenge.
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What Do We Do During Elul?
At the start of Elul, many in the Jewish world return to their studies; Sephardim start to say Selichot; and the sound of the shofar will be heard throughout the month of Elul, its siren call awakening something different in each of us.
I once heard the idea that in the month of Elul we need to turn our attention in two directions that are neglected throughout the year: within and above.
Within – toward self-improvement. Throughout the year, we tend to complain about events and people, whether in the news and or in our own lives. Sometimes the criticism is justified, but now is the time for soul-searching and self-investigation. To check what we – not others – are doing. On the High Holy Days, our declaration is “Ashamnu, bagadnu” (We have transgressed, we have acted treacherously). It’s about us and no one else.
Above – toward G-d through prayer. The gates of heaven are always open, but this month is considered an especially propitious time to connect with God. Recently they announced [in the Israeli government’s] Corona Cabinet that “hope is not an action plan.” That is correct, but to every action plan, it is necessary to add hope, optimism, and faith.
Here’s wishing everyone a good month with lots of good news.
(translation by Yehoshua Siskin)