By Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild
Yom Tov never seems to arrive on time. Early or late, it catches us by surprise. And yet – the date never changes and the calendar has a number of events to remind us. The month of Elul comes as a powerful prompt to wake up and, if not smell the coffee, then at least taste the teshuvah (repentance). Elul is the month before Rosh Hashanah, the month of preparation and repair. It is said to be the month when God is most accessible to us, hinted in the acronym forming its name “Ani le’dodi v’dodi li” (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine) – a reference to the intimacy we can create at this time. The shofar is blown in morning services, waking us from our complacency and dream-like existence. Selichot, the poems of pardon, feature in the liturgy towards the end of the month.
The haftarot of comfort are in full swing. So why are we often so surprised at the timing of the festivals?
What more can persuade us to get going on our repentance, apologise for our misdemeanours and try to make good the damage in our lives and relationships?
How do we guard against being caught out when the Days of Awe begin in Tishri? As a child, my parents bought my new winter outfit in time for Rosh Hashanah.
Preparing to ready oneself to stand in front of God called for a new garment. As a kittel-wearing adult, this particular ritual is less important to me, but the idea behind it stands.
We want to be renewed, for our souls to look less shabby, and that takes a positive act to make happen.
Elul stretches in front of us – time to make those phone calls, write those letters, give back the things we took from others, repair our corner of the world.
It may be that we are so busy with our teshuvah and reparations that Yom Tov sneaks up on us anyway, but with the work in progress it won’t be such a surprise.