May 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Elul and the Power of Preparation

In American pop culture, Super Bowl Sunday rises to the level of holiday status. Besides the tens of thousands who prepare for the day by spending top dollar on travel and tickets, millions of Americans take the time to plan where and with whom they will watch “the big game.” You can only imagine the intense preparation taken by the actual players themselves.

One player stands out when it comes to preparing for the Super Bowl—Tom Brady, the famed quarterback who competed in 10 Super Bowls, seven of which he won. In February of 2021, at the age of 43, Brady led his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to victory and was elected MVP. All that is well known. What is less known is the extent to which Brady prepared.

Although by this time Brady had already won six Super Bowls, to prepare for the 2021 game Brady sent scouting tips and films to his players at all hours of the night. He followed a strict diet, sleep and workout routine from which he never veered. One teammate told reporters that Brady convinced him to meet for workouts at 5:30 a.m., and when he once showed at 6:30 a.m., Brady greeted him sarcastically with the words: “Good afternoon.” Also, even though the Super Bowl was held in Brady’s home stadium in Tampa and he was therefore able to stay home, his training was so intense that his family moved out for the two weeks before the game so he could prepare without any interruption.

Any successful person will agree: nothing can replace proper preparation. Thomas Edison, the well-known inventor, famously said: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Nothing takes the place of hard work, training and preparation.

Why should the same discipline not be exerted in our spiritual pursuits?

Each year, Jews of all backgrounds attend High Holiday services—the Super Bowl of all prayer services. For some, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are powerful spiritual experiences, but for many others, it feels like something is missing. Maybe we blame the rabbi for being less than inspirational or we don’t like the tunes the cantor chose to sing. But what could we do ourselves to get more out of the High Holiday experience?

Like every other part of life, we must prepare! To get a high from the High Holidays, to truly experience the holiness of these “days of awe,” we must train in some way. What meaningful experience have you ever enjoyed that “just happened” without some advance preparation? “There can be no holiness without preparation.” This quote by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, one of the great Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century, lies at the heart of Judaism and sums up why I decided to write “The 40 Day Challenge.”

When the Jewish people gathered at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, they weren’t told to just “show up.” God instructed them to take a few days to prepare for this special divine encounter. And to this day, Jews, every year, count 49 days from the festival of Passover to Shavuot, as a way to prepare for the day the Jewish people celebrate this event in our history. Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar (1696–1743), in his monumental biblical commentary, Or Ha-Chaim, asked: If God took the Jews out of Egypt in order to give them the Torah, then why did He not do so immediately? Why did God wait seven weeks before gathering His people at Sinai and only then reveal to them the Torah? The Or Ha-Chaim answered that the Jews needed time to prepare, to shake off the dust of Egyptian slavery. They needed a period of adjustment and maturation to transition from being slaves to receiving the Torah. So, God waited and gave our ancestors some time to prepare.

Our lives today are no different. There are special events that transform the trajectory of our lives. It could be an interview for that job we’ve always wanted or a romantic evening when we finally propose to that special someone. These occasions alter our life path in profound ways, which is why we don’t just show up and see what happens. We dedicate time to prepare. We rehearse what we’re going to say at the next client meeting, how we will show our loved one we truly care about them, or what we want to say to a friend who is going through a difficult time. We don’t just appear on scene without a plan. Yet year after year, we show up on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and expect to be swept away by the magic of the moment. We have, however, been given a time period to prepare for the High Holidays—a 40-day period beginning on Rosh Chodesh Elul—the first day of the holiest month of the Jewish year. If we take advantage of this time period, I believe our High Holidays and our overall Jewish experience all year would be profoundly transformed for the better.

During the pandemic, as everyone began to distance themselves from one another, I was looking for a way to stay connected. I wanted to remain in touch with my students and friends and keep them spiritually energized, especially as the High Holidays were approaching. And so, besides the daily Zoom and Facebook Live classes offered by the Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE), I started a WhatsApp challenge group. The challenge consisted of Torah insights to be listened to each day, from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur. Hundreds of people joined and became regular listeners, and when the 40 days were up, I was already in a groove, and so I just kept going every day, in fact, to this day. It’s been a great journey and a wonderful way for me to start my day each morning. One of my students suggested I write up these 40 entries and hence “The Forty-Day Challenge” was born.

Hashem has given us the month of Elul so that we can experience the feeling of accomplishment and wholeness that sets a tone for the upcoming year. Last year, over 1000 people joined the challenge and entered the High Holidays prepared for a truly special experience. Let’s make this year even better, and be’ezrat Hashem in doing so, merit to celebrate next year in Jerusalem!


Rabbi Mark N. Wildes is the founder/director of Manhattan Jewish Experience.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles