Approaching Rosh Hashana

"We share a common destiny – Jews in Israel and abroad – and if it is good for one Jew, it is good for us all."

Rosh Hashana (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Rosh Hashana
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
There is a rabbinic allusion that the month of Elul was named for the initial letters of the verse “Ani le’dodi ve’dodi li” (I am my beloved and my beloved is mine), describing the relationship between God and His people.
What is special about Elul, other than the fact that it is leading us toward the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? According to the midrash, its special significance lies in Moses’s 40-day stay on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28), which was calculated to have begun on 1 Elul and ended on 10 Tishrei (Yom Kippur).
Elul is a month of repentance. After the people of Israel committed the sin of the Golden Calf and the tablets of the Ten Commandments were broken, Moses ascended Mount Sinai for the second time to bring back the Torah to his people, staying there until the Day of Atonement, the end of the period of repentance.
The prayers of repentance that we say during Elul are known as slihot (penitential prayers). They are a plea for forgiveness for our sins, because we know that we are approaching the time when we will be judged. We are told that through repentance, giving charity and our prayers, we will be forgiven and written into the Book of Life for another year.
Prayer is also known as “the service of the heart.” Rabbi Nahman of Breslov expressed it beautifully: “Every word of your prayer is like a rose that you pick from its bush. You continue until you have formed a bouquet of blessings, until you have pleated a wreath of glory for the Lord.”
Mystics believe that when they pray, there is an ascent of the soul, when it soars to upper worlds. Prayers of thanksgiving and praise are deemed more worthy than petitionary prayers, when we are asking for things, because they are selfless; some people believe that the highest form of worship is silence.
Prayers purify, refine and ennoble our hearts. The Bible tells us that Abraham was the first to utter a true prayer – for his fellow man. And today, as we worry about what will happen with the Iranian deal, the rise of terrorism and vicious anti-Semitism rising again in Europe, we have many reasons to pray for mercy.
So we pray for all Jews to have a good, safe year. We share a common destiny – Jews in Israel and abroad – and if it is good for one Jew, it is good for us all. It is this shared destiny that binds us together, no matter how different our ethnic and cultural boundaries may be.
I memorized the following poem when I was a schoolgirl. I never knew the author, and doubt he/she was Jewish. But I think it is appropriate now and throughout the year, and although it is not a prayer, it speaks to me at this time when we are resolving to be better people – not just for ourselves, but for all mankind:
“I shall pass through this world but once;
Any good therefore that I can do,
Or any kindness I can show
To any human being,
Let me do it now.
Let me not defer it or neglect it
For I shall not pass this way again.”