Elul arrives in gusts and torrents. A crash of thunder, lightning flashing across the night sky. The plunk of fat, wet drops on the drive, the steady drumbeat of rain falling on the roof. Water sluicing down mountains trails, coursing through washes, flooding byways and puddling walkways.
Fierce winds felling trees, shearing branches, tearing roots from the ground. The late summer storms leave a trail of debris and detritus in their wake, like the tangled messiness of our lives that accumulates over the course of our days. That we seek to untangle as one year ends and another beckons. Nature’s power in full force. A fitting prelude to this season of contemplation, to this time to reflect, resolve, renew.
So it is during Elul that we ready for this accounting, the shofar blown each morning as a wake up call, while outside nature unleashed reminds us of those forces beyond our control and the little things we can do to counter them. As the rains abate, as the heavens quiet, as the earth dries, we trundle outside to gather up errant branches, to sweep scattered leaves into neat piles, to unplug drains, to brush the rising waters towards them. Each small act to clean up, to tidy, to repair a tiny corner of the world, a metaphor for the work at hand as we look back to the year past and the prospect of yet another to come.
So it is in this spate of days leading up to Rosh Hashana that the sages urge us to turn to our sacred texts and their ancient wisdom that lay out those precepts for leading a moral and ethical life. That teach of obligation and responsibility, of personal refinement and communal betterment, of reconciling the me with the we, of finding ways to aspire to both.
And it is the rabbis in their teachings that take what was declared on high and bring it down from the heavens to the earth, to grapple with real life implications of those high minded ideals and lofty aspirations. And that our teachers and fellow students turn and turn with us as we seek to distill their relevance for us today.
There is a discomfort that comes from confronting those expectations, that comes from taking a hard look at ourselves, at how we’ve acted in the past year, how we’ve fallen short, how we’ve missed the mark. At the cross word, the sharp retort, the impatience, the frustration, the selfishness that sometimes threaten to overcome us.
And how we can make amends, determine to do better, guard our speech, temper our actions. So it is that our tradition enjoins us to choose life, in all of its messiness, and ours. To pray to be granted another year in spite of our mistakes, our missteps, our misgivings, and offers the hope of ever more days ahead.
And to be inscribed for another year of blessing, sweetness and joy.
May it be so.