This Saturday evening begins the Hebrew month of Elul. It is the concluding month of the lunar calendar, followed by Tishrei, upon which we commence the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. There are two interesting additions to the liturgy for the month of Elul: we begin the recitation of Psalm 27, and we sound the Shofar at morning services Sunday through Friday (not on Shabbat). Why the sounding of the Shofar? Well, for those who regularly sound the Shofar, it can serve as boot camp in preparation for the one hundred blasts sounded on both days of Rosh Hashanah. For those who hear it, the sound of the Shofar is impactful in a way that no other sound is in our lives. But why sound it at all?
Maimonides answers my question perfectly. He suggests that it is a Jewish alarm clock, a wake-up call for us. You can’t just show up on Yom Kippur and “Okay. I’m here. Forgive me”. There needs to be a preparatory process, a review of what we’ve said and done during the past year, and that takes time. All of us see our doctor for an annual physical, as we have a responsibility to ourselves and to those in our lives to be in the best health that we can be. It is not uncommon that we also have a range of blood tests, and perhaps other tests as well. The examination period might be longer than a mere one-hour appointment. So too should be our annual meta-physical examination. If we want to be the best possible self that we can be, then we owe it to ourselves and those in our lives to review who we are and what we became this past year. It is not easy to be a self-correcting model, but that is the responsibility that Yom Kippur demands of us. How have we wounded others through word or deed? How might we tone down our H speech, and add more love and respect to our interpersonal relationships? What might we do to help those in need, without thinking that it’s someone else’s responsibility, and not ours? How might we shift the balance from uncivil discourse to civil discourse, be it through our Social Media postings or mere conversation? How have we lived up to our responsibilities as Jews, and where have we fallen short in our relationship with God?
If you can take one hour to sit and talk to your primary care physician, don’t you owe it to yourself to think how you might improve just a pinch? Perhaps you are in the position to donate slightly more to charitable institutions? Perhaps you might be able to add thirty minutes more per month as a volunteer? Perhaps you might add a bit more kindness to your daily speech and improve the day of those around you? The shofar is our daily reminder that it’s time for your annual review. Unlike an alarm clock, you cannot push the snooze button. We must answer the call. How will you answer? The shofar is ticking.