This year we have had the pleasure of being in school for more than a month before the beginning of the new Jewish Year. While many of us count the passing of time using the terminology of the secular world, in school we also use the Jewish Calendar. This year, we have celebrated the month of Elul by blowing shofar each day and preparing ourselves for the High Holy Days.
In the Torah, Tishrei is recognized as the 6th month of the Jewish Calendar, falling 6 months after the Exodus from Egypt, when the first stirrings of peoplehood began. In the Torah, there is no mention of special traditions for the month of Elul, but various customs arose sometime during the first millennium that designated Elul as the time to prepare for the High Holy Days. We teach our students that this is the time for them to think about the deeds and actions that they have taken over the past year. To reflect on what they could have done better and to begin thinking of ways to demonstrate a willingness to think about the world beyond themselves.
As the Maharal of Prague said, “All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into his soul and search his deeds, that he may make confession.” (chabad.org)
The Hebrew letters that make the word Elul, aleph, lamed, vav and lamed, are also an acronym for the phrase (from the biblical Song of Songs) ani l’dodi v’dodi li, which means “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” Elul, then, is our time to establish closeness between ourselves and God so that we can enter the High Holy Days feeling connected to God and to the whole Jewish community.
As a school community, we teach students to act in compassionate ways towards the community around us. We encourage our students to bring Tzedakah, which is then collected by our 5th grade students. The 5th graders, our most senior students, then research and choose organizations to propose to the school community. As a school, we vote on the organizations that will receive the funds raised.
We hope for each of us that we take the remaining days of Elul to look within ourselves and ask how we can be better.