For all the shofar lovers out there, you may be pleased to know that blowing the shofar is a ritual that can be done well before Rosh Hashanah. In fact, starting this Sunday, when the new Hebrew month of Elul begins, there is a tradition of sounding the ram’s horn every single day for a month up until and including the first day of the next month, a.k.a. Rosh Hashanah, a.k.a. the Jewish New Year.
Just as you would train for a marathon or practice before performing with your band, it makes sense that we would spend time emotionally preparing ourselves for the High Holy Days. These essential days are a time for making amends with the people we have hurt (including ourselves) and recommitting to our moral values.
Personally, I’ve come to appreciate having some lead time to gauge where I am in my life and plan for how I can, to the best of my efforts, set myself up for success moving forward.
I like to think of the High Holy Days as a mirror that reflects back at us an honest reflection of who we are and what we’ve done. However, when I don’t give the necessary thought and emotional energy to where I want to be, how I can get there, and what my realistic obstacles are before the High Holy Days arrive, I wind up feeling more overwhelmed by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur than is helpful. By spending time in self-reflection throughout the entire month leading up to this time of year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can ultimately be days I am able to fully honor and uplift my process of renewal and forgiveness.
Judaism recognizes how hard it can be to observe and change our behaviors, as well as reconcile our personal relationships.Therefore, with innovations over time, Jewish tradition has come to offer us a whole High Holy Day season, rather than just two or three days to think about and embrace real change.
This is why the practice of personal introspection has evolved as a central part of the month of Elul. Some call this practice cheshbon hanefesh, or soul-accounting, and it includes mindful reflection through journaling, conversation, meditation or prayer, and, you may have guessed it, blowing the shofar. (Side note: therapy works, too!)
Personally, I love the blowing of the shofar (evidence below). I love the eerie, loud cries that emanate from it. I love how it makes us uncomfortable and alerts us to the urgency of addressing what feels broken in our lives. The shofar is there to guide us so we can be motivated to take positive action for the sake of improving our own lives and the wider world.
Since the mitzvah, or commandment, around the shofar is to actually hear its sounds rather than blow it, I’m including a video of me blowing the shofar that you can listen to once a day during your own period of cheshbon hanefesh. Give it a try, and let me know how it’s going!
As we begin this new month and start sifting through the messiness of our lives, remember to embrace the many good things you’ve done and the parts of you that you absolutely cherish. It is by recognizing and accepting who we are fully, that we can take steps to become more whole, more loving, and more effective in this work of soul-accounting and in our lives.
About the author: Rabbi Ilana Zietman is GatherDC’s Community Rabbi. She loves meeting new people and exploring Jewish ideas that are relevant and alive for people in their 20’s and 30’s. When Rabbi Ilana isn’t officially Gathering, she can be found cooking in her kitchen, practicing yoga, going on hikes, desperately searching for good pizza in DC (seriously, help her find some!) and watching a lot of tv.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.