Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 29

The “Process” of Elul

August 21, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health!

This morning at the daily minyan I attend, our services concluded with an additional Psalm text, and the resounding blast of the Shofar. It is a longstanding custom that during the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, we sound the haunting and awakening voice of the Shofar each and every day. Our tradition teaches that these Shofar blasts help prepare us spiritually for the upcoming Rosh HaShanna.

In fact, during this month many sources encourage us to begin our own internal process of Teshuvah (repentance) and Cheshbon HaNefesh (personal inventory). Through the blasts of the Shofar we are reminded that Elul is “a process.”

While there are many interpretations regarding what this process should look like, I share with you the teaching from the mystical text of the Zohar, which explains that at the beginning of Elul we are “Achor el Achor,” meaning “back-to-back,” and by the end of Elul we are “Panim el Panim,” or “face-to-face.”

During the year (and this year in particular), there is a tendency to turn our backs metaphorically from challenges, tribulations, strained personal or professional relationships and, even from our Jewish heritage. Over the course of time, many of us unwittingly harbor resentments and frustrations causing us to close the door or turn our backs from life’s fullest potential.

The Zohar thus challenges us to use each day of the preparatory month of Elul to slowly turn back around to our true essence as loving human beings and spiritual creatures. I believe the rationale behind the Zohar giving us the full month, rests in the notion that sometimes it is hard to turn around immediately a full one hundred and eighty degrees. Rather, each day offers us the possibility to turn around ever so slightly, so that by the end of the month, in time for the holidays, we will be “face-to-face” with our existential realities.

So while we prepare together for the upcoming holiday season and hear the blast of the Shofar, let us pray that we can use this time to turn back around and stand face-to-face, at least virtually, with our loved ones, our friends, our family, our community, our synagogue, our country and our Creator. As we eventually reencounter our lives fully in a face-to-face manner, we will undoubtedly become a blessing to ourselves and to the World.


Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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