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My Elul Exercise – Day #40

Elul.  Sounds like a beginner tongue twister, doesn’t?  It’s not.   It’s the name of one of those months in the Hebrew calendar, one of the few during which a holiday doesn’t fall.   Elul is month number 6 in that calendar.  And yet, due to the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of the Hebrew calendar it gets plenty of attention.  Elul is the last month the year (5771 in our current case).  It’s 29 days are a prelude, a walk-up, a pregame, a prologue (well, you get the idea) to the New Year.  Throw in the succeeding ten days of teshuvah and Elul frames the 40 day period before the most holy day of the year – Yom Kippur.  

Elul (which begins this year on the 31st of August) is not some holiday deprived month of the Hebrew calendar, but oh, so much more …

  • The Marahal of Prague (the same sage if Golem fame) taught that  “All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into his soul and search his deeds, that he may make confession.”
  • We are taught that the 4 letters of the name Elul are an acronym for an oft repeated (especially at weddings) phrase in the Song of Songs (6:3): “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.”   In this Elulian scenario – one ‘beloved’ is you or I and the other ‘beloved’ is The Sacred.  
  • Our tradition suggests that after Moses trudged back up the mountain to remake the scrolls he so carelessly ‘dropped’ on the golden calf that he remained on he mountain for 40 days – from the 1st of Elul until the 10th of Tishrei (Yom Kippur).  What was he doing up there other than tablet carving?  Seeking whole-hearted forgiveness and reconciliation with The Holy on behalf of the the people of Israel. Ever since then the month of Elul serves as a pretty good time to seek and cultivate mercy and forgiveness.
  • And then there is that number 40 cropping up and again and again … 40 is a number of cleansing and purification. Noah’s Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mikveh ― the ritual purification bath ― contains 40 measures of water.  Tradition teaches us that the Holy One is more accessible during the 40-day period beginning with the start of Elul and culminating in the first ten days of the month of Tishrei, ending with Yom Kippur.   If you can get past the ‘King’ metaphor, consider this mystical understanding of these days as when “The King is in the Field.”   King in the palace, not too accessible.  (guards, knights, advisors, jesters, etc.)  King in public out to inspect how things are going in the kingdom, an entirely different story.  (‘Your majesty, did you see that joust last night?!)  Elul is the time – in this mystic construct – that the Sacred is a little more accessible to you and I and we need to take advantage of it.  The mystics prefer Isaiah’s way of expressing it: “Seek God when He is at hand; Call upon Him when He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

Here is what I am going to do (or at least try to do) to help me look into my soul a bit more deeply, to seek out the Cosmic Beloved of mine out there, to seek and cultivate forgiveness and to be in the field with the ‘King’.    Each and every day of these forty it is my intention to write something about this sacred process of reflection and renewal that our traditions bids us to undertake each year.  With great humility, I offer these writings to you in forms of daily blog posts.  Not only do I want you to help me in staying true to my daily exercise, but perhaps my own ramblings about such Elulian themes, may be of use to you as you endeavor to take your own path of reflection, and renewal this New Year.  

So, read the daily blog posts, follow the blog, comment and share what you think … hopefully in some way my Elul Exercise will be a help to your own.  


And, whatever that exercise may be, may you have a great workout this New Year.

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