It’s Elul again. How does this happen? One day, it’s nowhere near the High Holidays, and the next day – here they come, and the beginning of the school year with them, and there’s so much left to do. So, of course, the day before Elul comes, I get challenged to come up with a way to bring a young person into Elul practice. How is this fair? I myself only started Elul practice two years ago, and now I have to think how to bring the ideas of Elul to a child? So, I ask Google. Oh, dear. Lots of stuff about “when little Tabitha wanted the candy, and saw the money just lying there, she…”. A bit about how we must all be nicer to one another, especially our parents. Quite a bit about colouring apples and honey. This sounds like exhausted parents trying to find a way to keep bored kids busy at High Holiday services, not a way to help someone young walk the Elul journey.
Well, I tried to write about walking the Elul journey, and then I realized I didn’t like it. So, I started over. Maybe I’m not seeing Elul as a journey at all this year. Maybe I’m tired of moving. Maybe I’ll see it as a time to clean up. Really, with our dream temples destroyed at Tisha B’Av, we have a lot of clean-up to do. There’s boxes to deal with. We just moved – trying to build a new temple, a new life. Elul is a time to unpack, to go through the clutter I’ve accumulated over the last year and say, “wow, what on earth was I thinking when I acquired that?” It’s hard. I never want to get rid of anything – but I know that the first step of welcoming something new is to let go of the old. So, I take that broken thingummy, I acknowledge the wail of, “but I used to use it and if we fix that corner, maybe it’ll be useful again some day,” and I throw it out. Spiritually, there are ideas and habits I can probably let go of much the same way.
Sometimes, I fix the broken stuff. Like furniture and appliances, relationships break, and I’m not all that good at fixing either. I don’t like apologising or forgiving any more than I like using hammers and screwdrivers, but this is the month in which I’m unpacking and cleaning up, and so I’d better do what it takes to repair what I can.
I look in corners. A big part of cleaning up is seeing what’s collected behind the fridge and under the stove and in that box labelled “odds and ends from the bedroom closet.” Although it is very disconcerting, I open the boxes. People have a way of not wanting to look at stuff – me in particular. I don’t want to see all the ways in which I’ve been less than perfect, in which I’ve missed the mark that I set myself. Still that box is not going to unpack itself! If I do the work, I might even find something I love or am proud of that has been hiding for way too long.
I get help. If I was unpacking and cleaning all by myself, I’d never be done, never mind in the month I have before the High Holidays. So, I talk to those I love, and I find ways we can work together to prepare for our future. Many people are a lot better at this cleaning up business. I definitely could use the assistance.
What else can I do to prepare for the New Year? Elul can be a time to plan. Sure, I’ve started to clear the ruined walls of my personal Tisha B’Av fallen temple, but what do I want to put in its place? Yes, I’ve moved away, and I may be unpacking the boxes, but where, exactly, am I trying to get to? Elul is a time to draw that map, to imagine that destination, to plan how I’m going to get there.
So, how can I bring a kid into my Elul? How do I help him see the job ahead? Is cleaning up going to be a good image for him, or does he need to imagine going on a trip, growing up, moving to a new city, learning new skills? Can I turn any of those into activities? I don’t know. (I love how easy that is to say – used to be hard, in my life. Now that’s a hard won skill I’m proud of.)
I think I’ll just let him know that Elul is a time to look inside, to see if there are ways we want to grow and change, to see how we connect to people and God and what we can do to improve that. Maybe I’ll talk about caterpillars and butterflies, and how that happens with people, and what one might think about when one is in a cocoon. I think I’ll encourage him to write and draw and find his way of getting through Elul. Maybe I’ll even talk about what Tabitha should do when she sees the money on the table, or let him colour some apples and honey. This year, we’ll explore Elul together and figure out how we can prepare for a truly exceptional year.