Prepare for the New Year
September-October 2016 / Av-Elul-Tishrei 5776/5777
- S.Y. Agnon tells the following in his classic book, Days of Awe:
Once our master, Rabbi Hayyim of Zans, told this parable:
A man had been wandering about in a forest for several days, not knowing which was the right way out. Suddenly, he saw a man approaching him in the distance. His heart was filled with joy. “Now I shall certainly find out which is the right way,” he thought to himself. When they neared each other he asked the man, “Brother, I have been wandering about in this forest for days. Can you tell me which is the right way out?”
Said the other to him, “I do not know the way out either. For I, too, have been wandering about in here for many days. But this I can tell you: do not go the way that I went, for that will surely lead you astray. And now, come let us look for the way out together.”
Our master added, “And so it is with us. One thing we can tell each other: the way that we have been following until now is not the way. Come, let us join hands and look for the way together.”
How do we join hands and look for the way together? According to Jewish tradition, we begin our journey during the month of Elul (the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah in the Jewish calendar). Rosh Hodesh Elul is on Sunday, September 4. The two traditional Elul practices are the sounding of the shofar and the recitation of Psalm 27. This year we will sound the shofar in both our morning and evening minyan, giving all attendees an opportunity to hear the shofar regularly. If you are available to join us at any weekday service (morning or evening), I think you will find the sound of the shofar rather evocative.
In addition to these traditional rituals, I sometimes need some other practices to prepare for the new year. This year, I will once again read Rabbi Alan Lew’s book, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. Drawing on both his rabbinical training and his scholarship in Buddhism, Lew leads readers on a journey from confusion to clarity, from doubt to belief, as he opens a path to self-discovery that is accessible. If you have not read this book, I highly
recommend it. It, too, has become a classic.
My family and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very happy and healthy New Year.