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A Message from Rabbi Spalter

Don’t Wait till the last minute

I am always asked by fellow Jews how one can make their Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur a more meaningful experience, how to make it last and how to really feel uplifted on the most holy days of the year. I want to address this question in the coming paragraphs.

For the longest time now, the High Holidays have come to mean to far too many Jews, the purchasing of a seat in a synagogue, cooking and hosting large meals, apples and honey and attending what is considered by many, very boring services. If you’re lucky, you get to hear a good sermon from the rabbi with a good opening joke, but for the most part, it is just another ritual that we do and cannot wait for it to end. Is this how our grandparents felt as well? Was there something that really excited them on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

The truth is, the experience of Rosh Hashanah does not begin on the first day of the Jewish year. It really begins a month earlier on Rosh Chodesh (the first of) Elul. Elul is the last month of the year and we are told that during this month G-d is very much accessible and close to the Jewish People. In fact, in a certain way, He is even more accessible to us during the month of Elul than during the High Holidays themselves. “How can that be?” you ask, well… according to the kabbalah there is a very lofty G-dly energy and revelation that is present in the world from the first of Elul through Yom Kippur, a total of 40 days. These correspond to the 40 days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai begging for, and securing G-d’s mercies and forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf. The difference between the month of Elul and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that during the High Holidays G-d, our king, is revealed in all His glory and awesomeness in His ‘palace’ and only those with special ‘permission’ can enter. In the month of Elul, on the other hand, G-d is with us in the ‘field’ so to speak i.e. in our domain, in our realm, on our terms. This revelation might lack the ‘awe and glory’ of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when He is in his ‘palace, nevertheless, in Elul He does reach out by revealing Himself to us on our terms. Anyone who wishes can approach. He is accessible to everyone, saint and sinner alike. The purpose of this Elul closeness, is to inspire us to ‘wake up’ and become somewhat better prepared for the High Holidays when we can approach G-d and experience Him in His ‘palace; in His realm, on His terms. But for that we need to get special ‘permission’. This ‘permission’ is granted to those who have bettered their ways and are spiritually worthy of entering the ‘palace’.

This explains why some of us have a very shallow experience on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When we arrive at Rosh Hashanah without the preparatory experience of Elul we are in trouble. Unless we are able to really tune in quickly and intensely on those days themselves (something very unlikely) we might just feel left out. But if we take advantage of these thirty days when changing our selves is easier because, as mentioned, G-d and holiness is accessible to us on our turf and terms, we get a head start and are much more in tuned with the awesomeness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are different. We are holier. We are spiritually closer and are therefore granted ‘permission’ and given access to enter G-d’s ‘palace’. Our Grandparents did that and so should we.

The month of Elul begins this Shabbos (August 11). For the next thirty days be a little more Jewish. Pray a little more and better. Put on Teffilin if you don’t already do so. Light Shabbos candles on time. Give a little extra charity. Do a little volunteer work for the community or Help a needy person. If you did one or more of the above, your Rosh Hashanah will most definitely be very different. You will feel that Rosh Hashanah is suddenly a day you can relate to; a day you will enjoy observing on every level and the Machzor will be your best friend. The rabbi’s sermon? For that we will have to wait and see.  

May we all have a meaningful Elul and a deeper High Holiday experience. May we all be blessed with a very happy and healthy New Year. A Shanah Tovah Umetukah to all.

Shabbat Shalom



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