Sound The Shofar In Elul - (Sept 2008)

I am writing this spontaneous posting on the first day of the Jewish month of Elul: The month which stands as a kind of “Jewish Lent” as it is a month of preparation for the High Holidays, the Jewish season of penitence and renewal.

This morning I had my regular weekday “silent communal lunch” of toast and coffee in the cafeteria which serves as my neo-monastic refectory. I walk up and down the steep hill from my “hermitage” everyday to the same cafeteria by way of exercise. The walk and lunch is silent but friendly greetings or smiles from those I pass remind me that I am not quite in a Charterhouse. But then, I am reminded of a Thomas Merton saying that “One does not break monastic silence by speaking but by wishing to be heard.”

Today, in that Cafeteria, a line in a local newspaper caught my eye. It was a simple saying, almost a cliché, but I don’t believe in accidents. It was remarkably apt for this particular day in the Jewish calendar.

"No podemos hacer nada respecto al pasado
Pero si podemos hacer algo respecto al futuro."

This little proverb reminds us that:

We can do nothing to change the past
But we can do something to change the future.

I often write about the importance of living in the present. Our present at the moment is the month of Elul. The time when we start to examine our past year to reflect on our broken promises or failed resolutions: the times when we “missed the target” we intended to aim for in our attempt to increase Justice and Charity in our hearts, in our homes, in our neighbourhood… the World.

The Spanish proverb says that we can do nothing to change the past. But in a way we can. Often when we examine our actions we uncover something hurtful or unjust which we had done but still not apologized for. By seeking out those we have hurt or mis-treated we are in fact changing the past for the sake of the future. A genuine apology which is genuinely accepted erases the past. If it is not accepted, then there is more work to be done, but at least we ourselves can move on having done our best.

There are ten days between Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year’s Day) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) both of which occur in the month of Tishri. Those ten days are the time when we are enjoined to apologise and make reparation to those "neighbours" we have offended or neglected. This year the Ten Days fall in the first weeks of October.
They seem a long way away and yet we are told to “Blow the shofar in Elul”.
Some say this is for practice as the shofar is blown ritually on those two approaching festival days. (See HERE). But many say that it is to remind us that if we are truly to make changes for the better in our lives, we have to start preparing for them in good time. That time is now. The Present.

We expect/hope that God will accept our apologies. We are assured that God will erase our bad record and make us white as snow. Sometimes we need courage and an almost superhuman effort to imitate that benevolence. Sometimes we are reluctant to do any “soul-cleaning” ourselves. Though it is often stated that those “ten days” are there to give us a chance to make amends to those we have offended, I don’t know about you, but I often need longer to get up the courage to approach some people with apologies and I certainly need longer to reach a decent level of honesty about my own conduct.

I have never been one for grovelling in penitence, but I am sure I have “missed the target” many times during the last year. I invite you to join me in starting this Season off with some hopeful, optimistic, and deep soul-searching that can lead to some timely action.

There will be time to “Think Big” and “Universal” during the High Holidays. The Liturgy of the Days of Awe gives us the chance to unite with “All Israel” in begging communal forgiveness and renewal. Let’s start small: Elul is here for us to tackle those closer relationships which need examination, for growing in generosity in our immediate vicinity. A time for preparing the ground gradually so that the Days of Awe will not be quite so frenetic.

It also gives us a chance to approach the High Holidays by means of a progressive and gradual ascent whereby we can attend to even weightier matters: The season is a time for increasing our attempt to inhabit/make consciously present the same dimension which God lives in…The Eternal Present. Say a prayer for me. I’ll say one for you….and may we have a deep growth-generating Elul …..and a very happy New Year.

With that wish I’ll sound the shofar in Elul on this website :