Rabbi Joe Blair
August 6th, 2013/30 Av 5773
Tonight, at 8:18 pm local time is sunset, which will mark the start of the first day of the month of Elul. Elul is the last month on the Jewish calendar, used to establish the cycle of holidays for the coming year, leading up to the month of Tishrei, the start of which is also known as Rosh Hashanah, which kicks off the Yamim Nora'im (ten days of awe).
Because of the nature of the holidays in the period of the Yamim Nora'im, especially Yom Kippur (the day of atonement), the month leading up to them is thought to be a time of introspection and self-examination. Elul thus takes on a sense of collective and personal internal focus. The questions we ask of our selves include: How did we do compared to how we could have done? Have we identified, acknowledged, and repented of the things we did that were not reflective of who we wish to be or become? Have we sincerely apologized, made every effort to repair damage we did, and done what we are able to seek to avoid repeating that mistake again? These are the steps of Teshuvah - repentance and return.
We also are obliged to work at forgiving. When someone comes to us and sincerely apologizes, we have an obligation to work at forgiving them - which is not to say that we forget, or that we act as if nothing happened, but we seek to let the anger and the desire for justice or revenge go.
I have said before that one of the hardest of all the difficult tasks in forgiving is forgiving our self. No one else is ever a harsher critic, no one else can know just how far we fell short of the mark, no one else is as aware of our own failings and shortcomings, or a harsher judge. So one of the goals of this time is to find a way to recognize our own humanity in all its imperfection, with all its flaws, and to find a way to accept our own sincere apologies and forgive what transpired so we can move forward and try again, seeking to do better.
The sense of hope that we can gain from knowing that forgiveness is possible is part of the power of what happens on erev Yom Kippur when the Kol Nidrei is chanted. This ancient prayer that asks that all the vows and promises we could not fulfill be annulled and made as if we had never uttered them is part of the holiday rite, allowing us to clear the books and start with a clean slate before G-d.
The music that this prayer is chanted to is deeply moving and powerful. It is almost indescribable how much it touches those who have heard it and felt the power of the words and the longing for a way to approach and return to G-d after errors, transgressions, failures, mistakes, sins, and unfulfilled promises and vows.
To help in setting the mood, here is a version of the Kol Nidrei performed as an instrumental piece. I hope that it touches you, as it does me, and helps you in your own work at this season. The music begins at 1:47.