Moving from spontaneous choices thrust upon us by COVID-19 to the conscious choices of who we’d like to be in the New Year gets sorted during the Hebrew month of Elul.
Rosh Chodesh Elul began Aug. 20 at sundown. Who could have imagined how much change we’d experience this year? Elul offers us the opportunity to look back at all of the decisions we’ve made from last fall, through the onset of the pandemic, and all the way to the conscious choices going forward into 5781.
The task of Elul is cheshbon hanefesh, the accounting of our souls. The acronym for Elul is ani l’dodi v’dodi li, which translates to, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” It’s time for us to initiate our relationship with G-d. This is when Hashem is believed to be most accessible.
During Elul we practice teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah. Teshuvah involves repentance and returning to love G-d, not out of fear, or as a way to superstitiously ensure good health, but from a desire to connect to the Divine. Tefillah, or prayer, along with self-judgment, elevate the power of goodness over evil. Tzedakah is the moral obligation to engage in acts of social justice in service to others. At this time, we also examine the tools of our practice, such as tefillin, mezuzot, and even our mitzvot, to see if they’re intact.
The zodiac sign is Virgo, the virgin. The theme of purification through acknowledgement of our shortcomings, actions that make things right with G-d and others, and charting our course forward while changing specific behaviors, makes us pure as if a virgin again.
Balanced Virgos are keenly observant, analytical, precise, and reliable problem-solvers. Out of balance, they’re inflexible, picky and indifferent to feelings and things that can’t be measured.
Elul’s Hebrew letter is yud, the smallest letter in the aleph-bet. Although it’s tiny, it represents the world to come, likened to the life-giving power of a single sperm/egg or “seed,” of man and woman that, with union, becomes life itself.
Mercury is the ruling planet of communication.The tribe, Gad, means “luck” or “good fortune,” and is the name of Jacob’s seventh son, who is the seventh son of the seventh son, thought to be an intuitive healer. Gad became one of the Lost Tribes.
Action is the sense. The rituals of hearing or blowing the shofar, reciting the 27th chapter of Psalms before morning and afternoon prayers, and spending the last 12 days of Elul making peace with each of the 12 months that has passed, are active.
The controlling limb is the left hand. That’s the side wrapped in tefillin, on the same side as the heart.
Practice teshuvah. Turn from the ways that don’t serve Hashem, you, or the world.
During COVID, have you developed habits that dishonor the holy vessel of your physical body? Have you been numbing yourself with alcohol or self-medicating with prescription or illicit drugs? Are you consuming food mindlessly? Do you drink the poisons of politics, media news, and rage with violent protests that boil your blood and rouse you from sleep? Are you lonely, perhaps even with others, and have you forgotten that Hashem is always there, waiting to hear from you?
Perform tefillah, prayer. G-d doesn’t require prayers to be chanted in perfect tune, nor in our ancient language. The only real requirement is the desire to connect and to show up in partnership. Align with the Divine and return to the pure essence of your soul.
Provide tzedakah. Helping others is always a pathway back toward helping yourself. When you’re at your low points, you may not feel as if you even deserve any help. But you do. Money is not the only way to give. Kindness shines from your heart, even behind a mask. Smile with your eyes. Offer time, energy or compassion to others. Share your bounty. Find ways to be of service and you will feel served.
Meditation Focus: Sit in stillness in a patch of splendor on G-d’s green earth. Be mindful of all for which you are grateful. Begin a gratitude journal and make at least one entry each day. There’s power in guiding your attention to what is positive. May you honor your body, clear your mind, unburden your heart, and commune with G-d.