Looking to Elul

After Rosh Chodesh Elul (August 21st), we read Psalm 27 twice a day at Shacharit and Mincha (the morning and afternoon prayer service). This causes us to begin preparing our hearts and minds with an attitude of repentance as we head toward the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashannah, and Yom Kippur.

In Ps. 27, David begins,

Adonai is my light and my salvation: whom should I fear? Adonai is the stronghold of my life: whom should I dread?”

While this is a positive affirmation, later he cries,

“To You my heart says: “Seek My face.” Your face, Adonai, I seek. Do not hide Your face from me. Do not turn Your servant away in anger. You have been my help. Do not abandon me or forsake me, O God my salvation” (v. 8-9).

It appears, that like many of us, David knew that HaShem was the source and anchor of his salvation, but at the same time, he had at least a shadow of a doubt that Adonai would actually be there for him. Maybe his felt his transgressions were just too great or too abhorrent. However, by the end of the psalm, he had refocused his heart and eyes onto HaShem and confidently proclaimed,

“Surely I trust that I will see the goodness of Adonai in the land of the living. Wait for Adonai. Be strong, let Your heart take courage, and wait for Adonai” (v. 13-14).

Years later, even as Jerusalem and Judah were preparing to fall to foreign rule due to their disobedience, the prophet Jeremiah wrote these words from the Ruach, to give hope to the people, then and now. He said with assurance,

“Return, backsliding children! I will heal your backsliding” (Jeremiah 3:22).

As we begin the countdown to the Days of Awe, we are refocusing our hearts and eyes on repentance and restoration—not only between ourselves and God, but also between ourselves and others. Remember Yeshua’s words to his talmidim (disciples):

“Therefore, if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).

To this day, in Judaism one does not expect HaShem to accept our repentance if we remain at odds with others. During the month of Elul, we can begin to refocus our lives in the direction that HaShem wants us to go. We have the opportunity to restore broken or strained relationships with family and friends.

I recently saw a copy of a 1918 advertisement from the New York Telephone Company which appeared during the Spanish Flu pandemic. What struck me was the line, “People who are in quarantine are not isolated if they have a Bell Telephone.” I suggest that the same concept is valid today. We are separated from family and friends by the pandemic, by miles, and often by multiple time zones. But we are only a phone call or some other digital form of communication away from one another. During the coming month of Elul, let’s rebuild bridges that have fallen into disrepair. Let’s turn back and make the initial contact to restore those relationships that have been stretched or even broken. Then we can approach the Days of Awe in confidence, knowing that our prayers will be answered because we have done what we could to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters as well as with our God.

This article was written by MJTI Registrar Rabbi Michael Hillel. For more by Rabbi Hillel, read his article on caution vs. fear, his thoughts on celebrating a virtual Shavuot, or continuing the count of the Omer.

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