Now that Elul is beginning...

Now the time has come for us to board anew our ‘ship of life’

ACTRESS HELEN HAYES (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
ACTRESS HELEN HAYES
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The month of Av, which we have just completed, offers us the terrible sadness of Tisha Be’av and the wonderful joy of Tu Be’av. 
Nevertheless, Elul still arrives as it does every year. Sunday morning, August 12, the shofar-blowers will come out in large numbers to demonstrate their talents after a year of silence.
The real challenge is how we will each count the days of Elul and truly make those days count.
There are some people who are grateful that they are alive – “Stayin’ Alive,” as the Bee Gees famously sang. On the one hand, they might have had a serious illness from which they recovered, making “Who will live and who will die?” reach their innermost being so that they can loudly rejoice and loudly intone the sheheheyanu blessing in gratitude for having remained alive.
How lucky they are. For some, the words “despair,” “broken,” or “racked with pain” best characterize what they feel. They are unable to face the coming days with anything other than sadness. Their focus is filtered through the embittered days and nights they have experienced. They feel mocked and betrayed, nothing can relieve their despair.
In the introduction to the prayers in the Lev Shalem Mahzor used on the High Holy Days, the following questions are asked in the boldest ways:
“What will my fate be this year? Will I spend my time wisely or used in a way that does not truly bring happiness? What are my most fundamental commitments? What are the ultimate questions which we must answer?”
Hassidim see Elul as a time when we question ourselves, not knowing how anything will be received. One rebbe said to a frightened soul, “How your prayers took Heaven by storm today. They lifted up all those prayers that could not make it through the gates.”
The actress Helen Hayes understood that we must be uplifted, even when the darkness appears to be winning. Once she wrote, “Every human being on this Earth is born with a tragedy, and it isn’t original sin. An individual is born with the tragedy that he/she has to grow up. That he/ she has to leave the nest, the security of home and go out to do battle. Everything that has been lovely will be lost.”
Then Hayes concluded, “We must fight for a new loveliness of our own making.”
Now the time has come for us to board anew our “ship of life.” We see that across from the shore a boat still awaits. Though 
seas are rough, that vessel is still afloat. Let us raise the sails held up by the mast.
My friends, somehow we must forget the troubles of the present and past. The waves of living will crash down upon the deck. Dire conditions make us tend more precisely both mast and sails. We work even harder, as well, to keep the light from failing.
In these days of Elul, we feel strongly that our storm is ending. Do not hesitate to look up. Yes, look up. There they are – your stars of hope. How fortunate we all are to see the sparkling, scintillating stars. They are there to guide us forward. Let your personal Elul embody that glow.
The writer is the author of American Heritage Haggadah, which can be found in the libraries of three American presidents.