Saturday, September 3, 2016

Elul, the Apocalypse, and Vera

This is the first in a series of blog posts discussing the Jewish High Holy Days.

At about sunset or nightfall later today, it will be the first of the month in the Jewish calendar.  No, it doesn't mean that we Jews get ready to go to our favorite local kosher meat shop and stock up on the goods.  It does mean that to celebrate the new month upon us.

And then there's Elul (say: ay-LOOL).

The Jewish month of Elul is a time period where most, if not all, Jews prepare themselves mentally for the High Holy Days, a period of the first ten days of the Jewish month of Tishrei (say: TISH-ray).

Think of it as a reverse Lenten season.  The preparation of the Apocalypse versus experiencing the Apocalypse first.

First off, there is no fasting during this time, which is good.  There will be a 24-hour period of no food to come later, but not now.  Secondly, in addition to morning prayers, you'll hear the sound of someone blasting a noise equivalent to a foghorn for a construction crew.  In the early morning.  For the next twenty and some odd days.  You might as well turn your alarms off to wake up for work; this loud noise will do the trick.  The noise is the sound coming from someone blowing a shofar, or a horn from a ram.  Sorry, vegans; a real ram's horn is needed to excrete this sound.

According to the Jewish calendar structure, Elul is the 12th month of the civil year (think of Elul being the December of the Jewish calendar). However, Elul is the 6th month of the ecclesiastical year (based on Biblical times).  To put this confusing monthly struggle into focus (eat your heart out, premenstrual symptoms), think of the four seasons of weather.  Elul pretty much tells folks that summer is about over, get ready for the transition into autumn.  The first day of Nissan (say: nees-HAHN) is considered to be the start of the ecclesiastical year, which marks the beginning of spring.  This is very similar to the concept of March originally being the beginning month of the Julian calendar year, before the current globally accepted Gregorian calendar year was established.

So, now that we know what Elul is, what is it about Elul that makes it so unique for Jews?  Basically, each day, when folks hear that construction foghorn called the shofar in the morning, it reminds us examine our thoughts, commitments, and actions throughout the past year.  "Did we do enough mitzvot or tzedekot (commandments from G-d or contributions of charity)?" "Were we good to our fellow neighbors and strangers alike?" "Did I hurt someone, intentionally or not?"  For some folks, this can be daunting and even a bit embarrassing to admit their own weaknesses.  But once they are out in the open, that burden will be off of your proverbial shoulders or chest.  Elul gives us Jews enough time to make sure we comb throughout everything we have done, so we can face the first Holy Day (or holiday), Rosh Hashanah.

In the next blog post of this series, which will come eventually, I will dive into Rosh Hashanah, Tishrei, and the Ten Days of Repentance.

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