Appreciating Elul

Posted on 08/18/2023 @ 06:00 AM

Tags: Jewish Schools & Educational Services

Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash

It’s that time of year again -- the end of a year full of happy times, milestones, and mistakes.
Or is it the beginning of a new year? One filled with endless possibilities and untapped potential.
Depending on how you look at it, it’s both.
For anyone who plays a role in Jewish education, it’s most definitely the beginning.
Whether you are a student, a teacher, an administrator, or anyone in between, you’re embarking on a new beginning. You can feel it in the air.
The flurry and excitement of a new school year. New school supplies, new shoes. Pencils sharpened and paper unused.
I can feel the nervous excitement through my children, and I can see the curiosity in their eyes. What friends will they make? What will they learn? Who will their teachers be? What new experiences are they about to embark on?
The future holds so much promise.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

As a parent of young school children ahead of a new school year, it absolutely feels like the beginning.
And yet, each year, this beginning falls during the Hebrew month of Elul.
Curiously, Elul is the last month on the Jewish calendar, not the first. It is the culmination of the entire year, not the fresh awakening of a new one.
Our sages teach us that Elul is a month of introspection and reflection. We are called on to look inward and examine the last year – our successes, missed opportunities, interactions, choices, and everything in between.
The shofar is a symbol of new beginnings, and it is no coincidence that there is a custom to hear the shofar being blown during the month of Elul.
The shofar arouses within us an understanding and excitement that Rosh Hashanah -the Jewish New Year– is near.
Elul – the end of the year– is actually a preparation for the beginning of the next. Rosh Hashanah only arrives after Elul ends. The new year depends on the completion of the last.
We are at the end, but also at the beginning. And this is the paradox of life.
Every end is a new beginning. And every new beginning is dependent on the end.
We see this even in the way we symbolize the beginning of the new year. On Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to make round challah – round like the never-ending circle of life.
During the rest of the year, we braid straight challah. As the year goes on, we spend our days putting one foot in front of the other, concentrating only on moving forward in a straight line.
The roundness of the challah is a reminder to use our past experiences to truly move forward and create new beginnings. We must give gratitude and recognition to what came before.
This is the message of Elul. Only by reflecting on and appreciating the past can we ensure a beautiful new year.
We are at the end of the road, sure, but also at the beginning of a new journey.
May it be a year of health, joy, growth in all ways positive, and especially, a year of education for everyone!

Written by Yehudis Smith, M.A., Director of Early Childhood and Congregational Education