Traditionally, the last month of any Jewish year, the month of Elul, is a month devoted to profound soul searching. Why?
Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we answer to God for our actions in the year passed.
The Days of Awe (the entire period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are not a time for superficial repentance and flippant confessions. They comprise a sacred season based on an exquisite metaphor that God will call us to account for our wrongdoings
Such a trial is not one to enter into without preparation.
Any criminal defense attorney will tell you that she or he does not walk into a courtroom to represent a person accused of serious wrongdoings without intense preparation.
If we are honest — and if ever a time in the Jewish year demands honesty of us it is the season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – we have all done many things we wish we had not.
Throughout the rest of the year, we deflect blame. We instinctively and reflexively defend ourselves and think of all the reasons why we consider ourselves innocent of wrongdoing. All through the year we present ourselves to others in the best possible light.
But during the Days of Awe we imagine –and more importantly we act – as if God sees through all artifice and pretense.
Some readers may wonder, “Why does he use the word ‘metaphor’ and the phrases ‘we imagine’ and ‘as if’?” The answer is: it is far beyond my ability to state with perfect faith what God does and does not do or how God may or may not act.
But it is not beyond my ability to perceive how God wants US to act or to understand that God wants us to treat one another with dignity and respect. It is not beyond my ability to know that our Torah and subsequent Jewish tradition teach that the Eternal One wants us to do all in our power to create a more just, caring and compassionate society on earth.
And so, we prepare carefully for the trial we are to undergo. But unlike an ordinary criminal trial our guilt is clear beyond doubt to the Judge of Judges. That Judge, though, is not a stern impartial magistrate. The Eternal Judge is also a loving parent to us. Yes, God is a parent who urges us to repent and to pray for forgiveness, and God is very eager to forgive and embrace us with love.
And so as the month of Elul unfolds, we constantly review the evidence against us and regret where we have gone astray. In that way we will be ready to wholeheartedly confess what we have done wrong during the Days of Awe.
If our efforts are sincere, our tradition asserts, God’s desire to be merciful overcomes God’s desire for strict justice so that we may enter the year of 5781 with joy, feeling cleansed and renewed.