by Rabbi Rick Schechter
I never was a Boy Scout (to my regret), yet I wholeheartedly endorse their teaching, “Be prepared.” I can think of very few instances in life where that advice doesn’t apply or lead to a more positive outcome.
It certainly holds true for the High Holy Days. Judaism encourages us to spend the entire month preceding Rosh Hashanah in preparation for the High Holy Days—to make ready, to be prepared. The preparatory month of Elul this year begins on Sunday, August 19.
To help make your Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur more enriching and meaningful, while also fulfilling the Boy Scout motto, I offer the following five resources to aid your High Holy Day preparation:
1. Gates of Repentance: The New Union Prayerbook for the Days of Awe (Central Conference of American Rabbis). There is no better place to start than the machzor—High Holy Day prayer book. It is filled with majestic prayers, beautiful songs, inspiring readings, and words of wisdom. The more familiar we are with the prayer book and its themes, the more we can get out of the High Holy Day experience. I encourage you to purchase a copy for your home, and begin reading it during Elul to spiritually prepare.
2. Days of Awe by S.Y. Agnon. This is an undisputed classic by the Israeli Nobel Prize-winning author. Agnon created a masterpiece anthology of Jewish traditions, legends, commentaries, and teachings about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It never disappoints, even after dozens of readings, and it’s a wonderful aid in High Holy Day preparation.
3. “Jewels of Elul.” For the more computer-inclined, these reflective and brief aphorisms for each day of Elul will provide daily inspiration leading up to the High Holy Days. Visit www.jewelsofelul.com to receive a daily jewel in your email inbox or to browse their website archives.
4. Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days: A Guided Journal by Kerry M. Olitzky and Rachel T. Sabath. This collection of daily meditations for Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur serves as a spiritual guidebook to explore the themes of repentance and renewal. It allows for guided journal work.
5. The spiritual practice of Cheshbon haNefesh—literally, an “accounting of the soul.” This centuries-old practice consists of spending a few minutes each day in self-examination, reflecting on the past year and one’s behavior. How did things go? What went well? What do you want to improve upon? In the various areas of your life, how would you like to grow in the upcoming year—physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually? How would you like to grow in relation to your family, your friendships, your health, your work, your community, your faith and religious practice? This is a very powerful spiritual practice than can clarify what is most important in your life, and prepare you for the deep soul work that culminates in the High Holy Days.
I pray that this time leading up to the High Holy Days is filled with wisdom and insight, heart and soul, adding to your enrichment and experience of the awe-filled days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.