Ushering in the High Holiday season, Selichot – which falls this year on Saturday night, September 24th – is the warm-up stretch that precedes the spiritual workout we give our souls during the Days of Awe.
If on Yom Kippur we rehearse our own death, then on Tishah B’Av (observed last month), we begin the annual process of preparing for death. The seven-week period from Tishah B’Av to Rosh HaShanah provides an opportunity to cultivate our souls, to reestablish our relationship with God, and to reconcile with ourselves and others. We transform the potentially passive experience of judgment into an active process of self-awareness, acceptance, engagement, and transformation.
Fans of “Seinfeld” may recall an exchange between Jerry and Elaine in which they discuss the appropriate timeline for delivering new year greetings. “I once got Happy New Year'd in March … it’s pathetic,” griped Jerry.
The Jewish calendar has a natural marker for when it’s appropriate to start wishing friends and loved ones a happy New Year. The Jewish month that precedes the Jewish New Year is called Elul, and the first day of Elul, Rosh Chodesh Elul, is the official beginning of the High Holiday season.
I often use the imagery of a bullseye when teaching young children the complicated concepts related to the High Holidays and Yom Kippur. Each day when we try to do our best, it’s like we’re aiming for the center of the bullseye. But sometimes we say something that hurts someone a friend’s feelings, or we do something unkind to a loved one. That’s when we land on an outer ring and miss the mark.