The Elul To Do List

by | Aug 16, 2012 | Torah Thought

An end of summer to do list:
1. Put away beach and vacation gear
2. Buy school supplies
3. Plumb the depths of the relationship between your immortal soul and God in hopes of rekindling the spiritual passion in that relationship*
4. Return “summer reading” books to library
*If number three sounds intimidating, don’t worry. You have an entire month to deal with it.

On August 19 we turned the page of our Jewish calendars to the new month of Elul, the month that immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Repentance. Elul is a very special time. The process of teshuva, of returning to God through repentance, is so important that the rabbis wanted to make sure we are prepared. The entire month was designated for that preparation and is marked by the blowing of the shofar at services every morning to serve as a call to action.

It makes a certain amount of sense when you consider it. Suppose you have an important meeting with the CEO of your company, a meeting that could decide your future employment. Would you prepare for that meeting, try to predict what the boss will say and develop responses, carefully arrange a Powerpoint highlighting your good work and value to the organization? Or would you arrive the day of the meeting without giving it too much thought and let the chips fall where they may? Most likely, you chose the former. So, how much more should we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we will stand metaphorically face to face with our Creator with no less than our spiritual wholeness, the health of our relationships and even our fate on the line?

Of course, just because we understand the task at hand doesn’t make it any less daunting. I have often found that daunting tasks are made easier when broken down. So, to help us all get started, here is an Elul To-Do List:

The Calendar Assessment—It is sometimes difficult to judge how we really spend our time. Luckily, we live in a calendar-obsessed age so we have coldhard facts to examine. A great step towards teshuva is taking last year’s calendar and reviewing everything that’s in it. Who’d you spend most of your time with? How often did you visit those you consider most important to you? How many entries are there for good acts you were involved in? Perhaps most importantly, is the way you spent your time reflective of what you think of as your priorities. If not, how can you change your time allocation in the coming year to better reflect your true self?

The Family Year-in-Review—Another way to get a better idea of how the past year went is to ask family members to join you in discussing the past year. By exploring the past year with your spouse, your children and/or your parents, you can get a fuller picture of how your actions affected those around you. You also may be reminded of incidents that were important to others, but which you have long forgotten. Lastly, this could be a good entry into the exploration of the health of your relationship with your family members, an essential part of the teshuva process.

The One Thing to Improve—Is there something you have always wished you were better at? Elul is the time to think of practical ways to improve. These are not New Year’s resolutions like exercise or learn to ride a unicycle. During Elul we should think about the things that impact others and the world—being more patient with our children or parents, treating God’s Creation with more respect, respecting ourselves, etc.

That should be a pretty good list to help us get started with a very intense, but fulfilling, month. Perhaps the best thing about Elul and the teshuva process is that if we engage in even one or two of the activities on the Elul To-Do List we will not only have a more meaningful High Holiday season; we will have a more meaningful, healthier and more priority-driven life. Now who wouldn’t want to check that off their “to do” list?

—Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz, Congregation Beth El.