Title: The 40 Day Challenge
By Rabbi Mark Wildes
Published by Kodesh Press, 186 pages
“Woke up and realized yesterday,
Think it’s a bummer end of the summer,
Kinda nervous that we’re almost there,
At the days of awe,
Prayers in a language that I don’t know,
Standing for hours and hours more
I wish that someone would please tell me-eee
What it is we’re praying for.”
(Maccabeats, “Book of Good Life”)
These words from the Maccabeats encapsulate many people’s feelings about the 40 days between Rosh Chodesh Elul and Yom Kippur. In many people’s minds, Elul, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur are linked with exclamations such as, “In Elul, even the fishes in the ponds would tremble from the ensuing Day of Judgment!” To others, feelings of guilt and shame are prominent. Even the more positive exclamation, “In Elul, The King is in the field, you must go out and meet him!” seems scary or at least overwhelming.
As we stand at the cusp of a new year, with so many different choices and opportunities, we sometimes are paralyzed by our inability to choose what to do to make it a better year. Amidst this backdrop, Rabbi Marc Wildes invites us on a voyage through the 40 days from Elul to Yom Kippur, in his new book, The Forty Day Challenge. Positive, directed inspiration, and channeled potential is the focus as Rabbi Wildes regales his readers with stories of rabbis, scientists, rock-stars and scholars.
Conceived as a project to help his scattered constituents prepare for Rosh Hashanah 5781, Rabbi Wildes sent out WhatsApp messages with thoughts and questions to consider each day.
These WhatsApps have been transformed into chapters labeled from Rosh Chodesh to Yom Kippur. Each chapter contains an engaging spiritual thought, a vignette and thought-provoking questions. The potential of these holy days comes alive as Rabbi Wildes challenges us to concretize our commitments and set pointed practical conversations for lasting change.
Rabbi Wildes urges his readers to start considering where they wish to go. He opens with the story of the Nobel Prize, how the man who invented dynamite woke up to his own obituary and wondered what his legacy would be to the world. Rabbi Wildes asks his readers to consider their goals for the coming year. How do they see themselves concretizing those goals? How can we make next year different from this past one?
In another touching story, an American man meets an Israeli waiter, who, as it turns out, was the wounded soldier he’d been davening for during Operation Protective Edge. The man had wondered about the efficacy of his tefillos, and in a moving moment, saw their results.
The book is compact, perfect to slip into a tallis bag, pocketbook or backpack. It could help to have an index in order to find your favorite stories and ideas. I feel that the information questions could be arranged in a graphic organizer in order to help formulate the responses into a comprehensive picture of the person and their goals.
To quote the Maccabeats once again, “Time for reflection on the past year. Time to figure out what we’re doing here. Replace the guilt with inspiration… And everything is clear.”