1.01 PLANNING HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE HIGH HOLIDAYS
Adapted from Shiurim of Harav Noah Weinberg, Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshivah Aish HaTorah
Planning for the High Holy Days can be a very difficult thing to do. There are so many variables and concepts to work out that only people who have experienced it many times can fully understand how to plan effectively. The following sheet is an attempt to provide a framework for those looking for a structured way to approach the month of Elul.
DIVIDE THE HOLIDAY PERIOD INTO SIX ONE-WEEK SLOTS EACH ENCOMPASSING A CENTRAL THEME
Week 1-Waking Up To The Sound of The Shofar – The first week of Elul is dedicated to doing the things that wake you up to the obligations and responsibilities of the upcoming holiday period. This actually is the reason that we blow the shofar. (This topic will be discussed in a later sheet.)
Week 2-Developing And Strengthening Your Relationship with G-d – (Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li)
After a one week period of doing things to wake you up, the first priority is doing the things that will inspire and strengthen a true relationship with G-d.
Week 3-Teshuva and Selichos – During this week one should explore the process of teshuva and go through the necessary steps to make the teshuva process a surefire success. Included in this week, is the study of the concept of Selichos as well as learning about the actual Selichos themselves.
Week 4 – The Power of Cheshbon (Spiritual Accounting) – After warming yourself up in week 1, working on getting closer to G-d in week 2, and exploring the world of teshuva and Slichos in week 3, you are ready to evaluate and make a plan for your life for the upcoming year.
Week 5 – Doing Teshuva -The fifth week includes Rosh HaShanah and the Fast of Gedalia, with 3 more of the 10 days of Teshuva. The priority for the 10 days of Teshuva is, of course, getting down to the actual business of teshuva. Included in this week is the need to learn the “Al Chet”and “Ashamnu”confessions and understanding their relevance to your life.
Week 6 – Final Preparations For Yom Kippur – This homestretch is the final few days before Yom Kippur where an individual ties it all together and makes his final preparations and commitments for the Yom Kippur day itself.
INITIAL SUGGESTIONS FOR WEEK 1-WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR
Coming out of the Summer into the month of Elul can be quite a shock. One is suddenly plunged into a world of thinking about teshuva, change, and responsibility. If a person plunges into the teshuva process too fast and too suddenly, it can turn him off to the upcoming holiday season. That is why it is necessary to slowly, but surely, ease yourself into the month of Elul and the holidays. The following are a few suggestions that have proven helpful to individuals wanting to ease their way into the Elul time period.
The general rule is to ease yourself into the obligations of the Forty Days until Yom Kippur in stages. You first start doing the things that are easier and then slowly start tackling the more difficult and complicated things. (Many of the following examples are adapted from Shaar Elul, Shaar Gimmel, HaRay Shaul Wagshall)
Step 1 – Strengthen yourself in the areas that you are strong in all year round. For example, if you are naturally good at learning halacha, start off your learning seder with an especially strong dedication to learning halacha.
Step 2 – Learn the things that inspire and energize you the most. Pick out your favorite areas of mussar or learning that really give you a charge and learn them well. This will slowly charge you up for the upcoming work that you have to do.
Step 3 – Start strengthening yourself in your davening. Now is the time to start working on praying in the proper way. Maybe make a commitment to come to davening five minutes early in order to be able to clear out your mind for the davening. Maybe start davening at a more controlled speed that enables you to really focus on the words. By strengthening your prayer, you will get a lot of spiritual strength which is so necessary at this time of year.
Step 4 – Strengthen Yourself in Your Learning. Everyone needs to strengthen his dedication to learning during this time period. Included in this is to begin your learning seder on time and not let yourself be distracted unnecessarily.
Step 5 – Make a conscious effort to be more careful in your relationships with your fellow man. For those of you who are married pay particular attention to the relationship with your spouse. There can be nothing more deflating to the Elul spirit than getting into a dispute with someone. Also, one of the essential parts of the teshuva process is working on interpersonal relationships and repairing any damage that you might have caused.
Step 6 – In a very general way, start to think about where your life is and where you want it to go. Keep it very general and very nonspecific at this time.
All these steps should slowly start to wake you up out of the sleep of the rest of the year, particularly the Summer. From these steps a person will start to feel uplifted, and from this will come the desire to start correcting the rest of the things that need to be fixed.
Over the next few days we will be exploring other areas and ways to wake ourselves to Elul and the holidays.