That moment. The one when your phone is finally on airplane mode, you’re buckled in and the plane begins to circle the tarmac. You finally exhale, knowing that you’ve done all you can and there is a moment of surrender; you’ve packed, gone through airport security, and now you can simply sit. (Unless, of course, you’re an anxious flyer, but as my mother would say, let’s not pick apart the metaphor.)
I think of this moment of exhalation when I consider Shabbat and Yom Tov; that breath when the candles are lit and you’ve done all you can to prepare. Your feet thank you as you finally take a moment to simply be.
With Rosh Chodesh Elul now behind us, it feels like it might be a while before we achieve this exhale. Instead, our minds are likely preoccupied with menu planning, consideration of guests, seats in shul, decorations to pull out of storage, and what will be consumed before and after the fasts. It’s about presentation and people, food and fasting. But for so many, only when this planning is behind us do we engage in recalling the intention of the day.
Only when we arrive in shul, pull out a siddur, or sit as the candles are lit before the first meal do we actively remember the purpose of these holidays. It is so easy to become lost in the preparation, the concerns, and the desire to have things just right, to create long-lasting memories and to bring people together—even to teach others about the holiday being celebrated. We become immersed for good reason: We have to arrange our finances to prepare, we need to plan in advance regarding guests, menus, decor, sukkah building—the list can go on and on. Of course, we must take time and due diligence to ready ourselves for this stretch.
But maybe now, in the month beforehand, we can slow down just a bit. I understand that this is the month of avoiding thinking about going back to school but still thinking about going back to school. I understand that people have jokingly posted on social media, “Not to scare anyone but we have less than a month to go, what are we all making for Rosh Hashanah this year?”
I can imagine the stressors and hardships that hit us in uniquely different ways. With all of this being said, I believe that in our collective community—and in all of us as individuals—we can create more space to engage in the true meaning of these days. We can begin now to reflect on the year behind us. To wake up, not only when we hear that first shofar blast in the congregation, but rather now, by doing so with intention and purpose.
We can assess and identify goals, explore teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah not only in those 10 days between the Yamim Noraim, but now. As concepts, in action, in dialogue not only with ourselves but with others. We can teach those around us—peers, parents, the next generation—and foster growth and conversation.
While we can think about and likely must think about the agendas noted above, let us engage in a dialectic or dual thinking by also dedicating time now, leading up to these holidays, to make meaning. Whether it is once a day or once a week, I challenge you, reader, to use Elul as a means of reflecting and preparing in some new way. Perhaps you do this already—see if there is another direction you can take to nurture your growth or to support those around you.
Pausing and grounding ourselves for just a moment in that airport or on a Friday afternoon can allow for a sense of deeper connection and more meaningful awareness to the journey ahead. I wish you a (belated) chodesh tov, and wishes for meaning that can complement your month of preparation.
Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 14+ in New York and New Jersey (virtually at this time) struggling with mental health concerns and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and a Metro-NY supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, please visit www.temimah.com