by Andrew Oram
This time of year always seems a hurricane of activity: coming back from vacation to reams of email, or starting school, or dealing with all the pent-up housework that went blissfully ignored during the easy summer months.
Traditionally, Jews see this time of year very differently. Like typical Americans, this period is for them both an ending and a beginning: a recognition of the waning of life and an invigorating harbinger of new possibilities. But in place of the chaotic hurricane that starts for us after Labor Day, many Jews launch a period of quiet, internal reconstruction four days earlier on the first day of Elul.
Leaving mental space and physical time for self-reflection—and doing it now, precisely because this is such a busy time of year—represents an excellent discipline that can preserve mental and physical health throughout the year.
The change of seasons also teaches about of the amazing balance in the Earth that gives us food, clean air, and all good things. We don’t need to lament the end of warm weather and the reminder that in a few months we will be buried in snow. Snow is one of the great blessings of God–not just because we enjoy winter sports, but because it forms the perfect storage medium that, when the climate works right, preserves the water coming from Heaven that is needed months later for the plants that sprang up on the third day of Creation.
We don’t have to approach Elul through the traditional obsession with the S-word (sin). We can look back at what we wanted to accomplish during the year, and measure how far we have come. We can recall what unanticipated challenges and woes came up, congratulate ourselves for making it through them, and give a thumb’s up to the greater force that might have helped. We can ask why it is (if so) we do more Jewish stuff during High Holidays than the rest of year, and consider incrementing our Jewish practice and thinking year-round. And most of all, we should take a vow to devote part of the year to the preservation of the Earth, so that our descendants can enjoy High Holidays three thousand years from now.
Andrew Oram is an editor and writer at the technology company O’Reilly Media, a member of Temple Shir Tikvah of Winchester, Massachusetts, and an activist in the Jewish Climate Action Network and other local
(This is adapted from an article originally published in the newsletter of Temple Shir Tivkvah, Winchester, Mass.)