The imminent arrival of the Hebrew month of Elul is invariably a wake-up call to all of us. Aside from the obvious- that Rosh Hashanah is four weeks away- there are also, of course, subliminal messages that come with a time of penitence and sober introspection.
We are in a time of endings, and of beginnings.
One would think that there would be a kind of numbing sameness to this exercise. After all, it comes around every year, and we know the drill. The air begins to get just a little bit cooler, older children are leaving for college, younger ones stocking up on school supplies, and there is no way to avoid that fact that, as school gears up and seasons change, summer is coming to an end. For most people, that realization involves more than a twinge of sadness.
But though we know that feeling all too well, its sadness is invariably mitigated by the welcome possibilities of new beginnings. Both in a religious sense and in a practical one, it’s hard not to feel that we have what we used to call in our childhood a “do-over.” No matter what was less than wonderful in the preceding year, no matter how disappointed we may be in ourselves or in others, a new year soon to begin offers the chance to do it better this time around. That’s the feeling that guards against any sense of numbing sameness. Beginnings may, as the Midrash teaches, be difficult. But they are also, in a sense, like newborn children- perfect and unspoiled, and rife with unknowable potential.
It’s been an interesting exercise having the Democratic Party convention juxtaposed with Elul so visible just over the horizon. Truth to tell, whether Democrat or Republican, party conventions are all about new beginnings- or at least the desire to convince everyone that what is to follow will be new and different. There are few venues in which the word “change” (so crucial in a spiritual sense at this time of year) gets used quite as often as at a political convention.
Especially in a year like this one, when no matter which party wins we will have new president, we are asked to believe in the possibility that things can be better than they have been.
Talk about numbing sameness… how can one not be cynical about political promises of better times to come. And yet, the spiritual dimension within us virtually demands that we remain open to new possibilities, in others and in ourselves.