The Jewish year 5773 was disturbing in many ways. It began with Hurricane Sandy, continued with the Boston Marathon bombings and proceeded with existential threats to Israel as the countries around it grew less stable. National and global events challenged our beliefs on many levels, not to mention our personal concerns.
As Jews, we look ahead, not with trepidation but with hope. A New Year is coming, and we have a chance to start all over again, trying to heal the world and trying to heal ourselves. Before that comes a gift – a whole month of introspection called Elul.
The twelfth month of the Jewish civil year, Elul leads right up to the High Holy Days. While we enjoy the last of summer days, we also take time to prepare ourselves for the holidays and the year to come.
There are two possible origins of the word “Elul.” It may come from the root of the verb “search” in Aramaic, the vernacular language of Semitic tribes. The Hebrew word “Elul” might be an acronym for “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” – “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3). Thus, it can be viewed as as a time to search one’s heart and draw close to God in preparation for the coming Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah, and Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It is a time to repent and forgive, building up to a crescendo on Selichot and then the High Holy Days.
According to Jewish tradition, “Elul came up,” or “returned with,” those Jews who returned to Israel from the 70-year exile in Babylonia. The idea of return coincides with the concept of “returning to God,” or “repentance.”
Another school of thought says that Elul is the time that Moses spent on Mount Sinai preparing the second set of tablets of the Ten Commandments after the golden calf incident. He went up on the mountain at the beginning of Elul and came down at the end of Yom Kippur, when repentance was complete. Another accounting of this 40-day period is that it is a time when Moses prayed to God to forgive the people after the golden calf incident and then received the commandment to prepare the second set of tablets.
If the Jewish people could get past that incident then, we can get past anything now. We simply have to find the strength and the desire to work for it, inside and out.
While we look, we can learn. The Orange County Jewish community is rife with spiritual experiences and learning opportunities for all ages. Whether one’s learning style is rooted in a traditional approach or one that takes advantage of the latest in 21st century tools, it is ours for the asking. Whether one desires a traditional synagogue experience, one that breaks down physical barriers or a combination, we can find it.
Elul is a great time to go on a journey of Jewish self-discovery and explore the rich tapestry of Jewish Orange County. Check out the options on these pages and explore our full guide to the High Holy Days online. May your journey toward 5774 be sweet and fulfilling.