A Comprehensive Program to Maximize The High Holy Days

Category: Week One

1.05 WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR : MOTIVATING YOURSELF TO GET STARTED ON THE WORK OF ELUL

1.05 WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR : MOTIVATING YOURSELF TO GET STARTED ON THE WORK OF ELUL

MAKE IT DIFFERENT THIS YEAR

For those of us that were here last Tishrei, many of us can think back to the day after Yom Kippur when many of us had the feeling, “If I only knew at the beginning of Elul what I know now, would I do things differently. I would have…”

“Next year I am really going to study the Machzor early enough so I will finally understand it.”

“Next year I promise I will study the Slichos so I will be prepared and not depressed when I have to get up at 6:30 and daven for an hour and a half every morning.”

“Next year, I will have a plan for the year for growth so when I get up and say the Ashamnu and Al Chet confessions I will really mean it when I say I won’t be doing the sin again.”

And then Erev Rosh HaShanah comes along and you blow the dust off your machzor and you try to cram in all the different responsibilities and you get overwhelmed and just close it in frustration.

For those of us who have been here many years, how many times have we said the above statements after the Holiday period was over and then the following Elul did the exact same thing!

Why not start off this year on the right foot? Why not start with an planned approach to the holidays that after Yom Kippur you will be able to say, “I did my best and I am proud of myself.”


COMMON EXCUSES TO DELAY STARTING THE WORK OF ELUL

Excuse #1. ‘There Is just too much to do. I don’t know where to begin.”

Many people look at the awesome period ahead with the largest number of Holiday obligations of the whole year and say, “there is just too much to do.” And so they don’t do anything.

The problem is obvious. In one year, no one can learn all the material of the holiday period. To fully understand and comprehend all the laws is a process that takes many years. It is precisely in reference to this problem that the Mishnah in Pirke Avos is giving this advice:

You are not expected to complete the work and yet you are not free to evade it. (Pirke Avos 2.16)

No one expects you to learn the whole Elul and Tishrei curriculum within one year. But if you bite off a small chunk this year and take good notes about what you learned, then next year you can begin to conquer something else. But keep one thing very clear in your mind, under no circumstances are you free to evade dealing with your responsibilities just because you won’t be able to complete them.

Excuse #2. “I have too much other work to do.”

There is only one Elul in the year and there is only one Tishrei. G-d gave us many mitzvos to do specifically during this period. This necessitates sufficient preparation for them. Only by allotting the proper amount of time for preparation will you have the ability to fulfill your basic requirements. The fact that G-d gave us these mitzvos at this time of the year tells us that this is what we need to do to maximize our potential and not many of the other things that hold our attention.

Excuse #3. “I’ll do it when I have some free time in my schedule”

The day is short, the work is long, the workers are lazy, the reward Is great and the Master is insistent. (Pirke Avos 2.15)

The Yetzer Hora knows how to get us. He knows that if he says “Never do the work of Elul” you would never listen. So he says “Look, you will have some free time sooner or later, so do it then.”

To respond to this, the Mishnah in Pirkie Avos advises a person to do the following:

Repent the day before you die. (Pirke Avos 2.14)

Why does it say to repent the day before you die? Because maybe (G-d forbid) tomorrow you might die. Therefore the obligation to do teshuva is today.

Particularly during this time period it applies since this is the time of teshuva and change. The Mishnah is telling us to do teshuva now-when you have the opportunity — for tomorrow it may not be possible.

Excuse #4. I don’t know what to do.

Thank G-d you are in a yeshiva and there are many people around you who have lots of experience in the area of the High Holy Days and how to utilize them. If you are at a loss about what to do or how to take action, interview 5 people who have been around for many years and ask them what they have done over the past few holiday seasons that they felt was instrumental to their growth. This can give you great insights into how people approach the upcoming season in a successful way.


REALIZE THAT YOUR NATURE WILL DRAG YOU DOWN

It is important to realize that the Yetzer Hora will do everything in its power to drag you down, particularly during important time periods during the Jewish year:

A person’s nature exercises a strong downward pull upon him. This is so because the grossness which characterizes the substance of earthliness keeps a man from desiring exertion and labor. One who wishes, therefore to attain to the service of the Creator, must strengthen himself against his nature and be zealous. If he leaves himself in the hands of his downward-pulling nature, there is no question that he will not succeed. (Mesillas Yesharim, Chapter 6)

JUST GO AND DO IT

Sometimes the best thing to do is just to start moving and pretend that you are motivated to do something. If a person starts working on the teshuva process of Elul with an outer enthusiasm sometimes it can inflame an inner enthusiasm:

The man whose soul burns In the service of his Creator will surely not be idle In the performance of His mitzvos, but his movements will be like the quick movements of a fire; he will not rest or be still until the deed has been completed.

Furthermore, just as zeal can result from an inner burning so can it create one. That is, one who feels a quickening of his outer movements in the performance of a mitzvah, conditions himself to experience a flaming inner excitement. Through this, longing and desire will continually grow. If, however, he is sluggish in the movements of his limbs, the excitement of his spirit will die down and be extinguished. Experience testifies to this. (Mesillas Vesharim Chapter 7)

THE MARK OF EVERY TZADDIK IS THAT ALL THEIR DEEDS ARE DONE WITH GREAT MOTIVATION

All Tzadikim approach the concept of doing mitzvos with great motivation even when things are tough and difficult:

G-d appeared to Avraham in the Plain of Mamre… Avraham lifted his eyes and he saw three strangers standing a short distance from him. When he saw them from the entrance to the tent, he ran to greet them, bowing down to the ground. He said, Sir, do not go on without stopping by me. Let some water be brought and wash your feet… Avraham rushed to Sarah’s tent and said, Hurry! Three measures of the finest flour! Knead it and make rolls. Avraham ran to the cattle, and chose a tender, choice calf. He gave it to a young man who rushed to prepare it. (Beresheis 18)

We see here how Avraham Avinu on the third day after his Bris Mila when, in great pain, got up and ran to greet his guests. What was the rush? Was there any competition? Where else would the guests go? Yet he saw the mitzvah as a vital opportunity that must immediately be taken advantage of.

This should teach us how to deal with our preparations for the Holiday period. Even though things are tough, and we have a full schedule and it is so hard to work on ourselves, we should try nevertheless to approach the opportunity with the same level of commitment that Avraham Avinu had for his guests. We should not sluggishly deal with our responsibilities but rather run to perform them with the greatest zeal we can possibility sibly think of.

SUMMARY

Getting started on our Elul work can be difficult and frustrating. May these insights serve to inspire and motivate us to get started on the work that we need to do.

 

1.04 WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR : THE OPPORTUNITY OF ELUL

1.04 WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR : THE OPPORTUNITY OF ELUL

WHEN G-D REVEALED HIMSELF TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE AT MOUNT SINAI THEY ROSE TO THE HIGHEST LEVEL IMAGINABLE

On Shavuos, in the year 2448, G-d revealed hlimself to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai. the Jewish People had cleansed themselves of the impurity of Egypt and had risen to the highest spiritual level. The greatness they had achieved cannot be underestimated. Af­ter uttering “na’aseh v’nishma (we will do and we will understand),” at Mount Sinai, they re­sembled angels rather than humans. They had regained the level of Adam before he sinned, and Hashem pronounced them free of the power of the Angel of Death. (Shmos Raba 32.7)

MOSHE’S FIRST ASCENT TO THE HEAVENS

Moses went up to heaven to learn the To­rah directly from G-d. Before ascending to heaven to receive the luchos, Moshe assured the people, “I will return in forty days, before noontime.” (Shmos Raba 41.8). At the end of the forty days, Hashem handed Moshe two sapphire luchos (tablets) of identical shape and size. On them, He had engraved the Ten Comandments

THE JEWISH PEOPLE MISCALCULATE MOSHE’S RETURN FROM MOUNT SINAI

At noon on the 40th day when Moshe didn’t return, the people knew that he would not be returning for the rest of that day. This was because Moshe would only ascend and descend in the early mornings. The people had calculated in the following manner: They calculated 40 days including the day when Moshe went up. In reality, Moshe had exclud­ed the day he went up from his calculation because he had still been in the camp the night preceding that day (i.e. it had not been a complete 24 hour period). Since Moshe had left on the seventh of Sivan, he should have returned, according to the people’s opinion, on the sixteenth of Tammuz. Ac­cording to Moshe’s calculations however, he was due not until the 17th of Tammuz. ­(Based on Rashi ‘When Moshe went up Shabbos 89)

THE JEWISH PEOPLE PANIC WHEN MOSHE DOESN’T RETURN AND THEY BUILD THE GOLDEN CALF

On the 16th of Tammuz when Moshe didn’t return, the Jewish People began to build the Golden Calf (The Chait Ha’aigel). As soon as the Bnei Yisrael had set up the aigel, the Clouds of Glory departed. The people thus remained bare of Divine protection. The an­gels descended and removed their immuni­ty from the Angel of Death. By their sin they relinquished their spiritual greatness and be­came mortal again. (Shmos Raba 51.8)

MOSHE’S SECOND ASCENT TO THE HEAVENS

After smashing the Tablets, destroying the Calf, and punishing the sinners, Moshe went up to plead for the lives of the Jewish People as a whole. On the nineteenth of Tam­muz, Moshe ascended to Heaven once again. He stayed there for forty days, until the 29th of Av, to plead with Hashem to pardon the Bnei Yisrael. (Rashi on Shmos 33.11) During that time, he presented his arguments in favor of the Jewish People with such intensity and fervor that his whole body was feverish. After 40 days of unceasing prayer, Hashem finally agreed to spare the Jewish People in the merit of their forefathers. On the last day of Av, Moshe returned to the people. Although he had evoked Hashem’s mercy, thus saving the Jewish Peo­ple from destruction, Moshe had not obtained forgiveness for their sin. (Tanchuma Ki Sisa 35)

MOSHE’S THIRD AND FINAL ASCENT TO THE HEAVENS

Moshe ascended Har Sinai on Rosh Cho­desh Elul and stayed in the heavenly camp for forty days. This was his third stay in Heaven (bringing to 120 the total number of days spent there.)

On the tenth of Tishrei, Hashem par­doned* KIal Yisrael for the Chait Ha’aigel. He gave Moshe the second luchos. Hashem designated this day as a day of forgiveness for all future generations: the day of Yom Kippur.

And on the new moon of Elul, G-d said to Moshe “Come up to me to the Mount and let them sound the shofar throughout the camp … so that they do not go astray after the worship of idols. And G-d is elevated with that shofar of that day… Therefore the sages instituted that the shofar be sounded on the new moon of Elul every year. (Pirke de Rebbi Eliezar Ch. 46)

In the Tur, chapter 581, it is stated that the shofar is to be blown not only on Rosh Cho­desh, but this custom is continued through­out the whole month of Elul in order to bring people to teshuva.


WHAT SHOULD SOMEONE BE THINKING WHEN HE HEARS THE SHOFAR BEING BLOWN IN ELUL?

A.   The shofar of Elul is meant to bring clari­ty. alertness, and focus while you are at­tempting to get forgiveness from Hashem.

The Jewish People attempted not to fall back into their previous mistakes while Moshe was away. This is a message for us. During Elul, we must fight not to fall back into our old habits and maintain focus on our main priorities while we are trying to get forgive­ness.

B.’ The shofar of Elul symbolizes not going after idolatry

“Let them sound the shofar throughout the camp… so that they do not go astray after the worship of idols.” We see from the ex­cerpt from Pirke D’Rebbe Eliezer that the purpose of the shofar sound is to turn the people from the worship of idols.

What is idolatry? It is the attribution of power to anything other than G-d. It is run­ning after things that do not have any mean­ing — running after confusion and illusion.

When someone hears the Shofar in Elul, it reminds him of the main purpose of Elul: to get clarity as to the true meaning in life; to draw away from the things that pull him down; and to focus on the main things in life.

C.  The Shofar of Elul symbolizes the ability to do teshuva even on the most grievous sins.

Elul was the time period when Moshe was in Heaven getting the final forgiveness* for one of the most grievous sins a human can do. Therefore, when the shofar is blown it emphasizes the ability to return to Hashem even after one has done harmful things to that relationship. It shows the mercy of the Al-mighty to allow us to return to Him if we take the proper steps, no matter what we have done.


SUMMARY

We see from the previous excerpts how powerful and meaningful is the message of the month of Elul. We also see the function of the shofar in bringing across that message. May we all hear the message of the shofar of Elul and integrate it into our lives.

*It should be noted that the sin of the Golden calf was never totally for­given Rather, Hashem agreed to mete out the punishment for the Gold­en calf over many generations effectively reducing the punishment to a miniscule degree

1.03 WEEK 1-WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR A HIGH HOLIDAY SELF- EVALUATION QUIZ

1.03 WEEK 1-WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR A HIGH HOLIDAY SELF- EVALUATION QUIZ

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this self-evaluation quiz is to identify areas in your knowledge of the High Holy Days that might need strengthening. This can help you evaluate areas that you might have to work on in your prepara­tions this Elul.

WARNING #1

If you are someone experiencing your first or sec­ond Holiday season, don’t expect to know the answers to most of the questions. This is understandable. It might be a good idea not even to fill out this check­list. and use this as an informal guide to areas of future study.

WARNING #2

Keep in mind that no one will get all number 1’s on this checklist. It takes a few Eluls of good, solid prep­aration in order to cover most of the topics on this list.

HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD ONE SPEND PER DAY ON PREPARATIONS FOR THE HOLIDAYS?

Harav Noach Weinberg recommends spending 30-60 minutes per day on preparations for the High Holy Days. This is, of course, on condition that you are being productive. If you are not succeeding in what you are doing, speak to your Rebbe or program advisor about other alternatives. It is also important to stress that this holiday prep­aration has to be from the quality free time of your day and not done at hours when you don’t have energy. And of course, this preparation should not interfere with any of your other Yeshiva learning responsibilities.

HOW TO USE THIS CHECKLIST

The following is a list of the major topics of the hol­iday period followed by a list of questions. Next to each question either put a number 1 if you know the answer, 2 if you know the answer somewhat, or 3 if you don’t know the answer. If you see that in a certain area you have all number 3’s, it is a sign that you have work to do in this area.


1. THE MONTH OF ELUL

A. What happened historically in the Chumash during the month of Elul?
B. What is the goal of Elul?
C. How do I use Elul in the best way?
D. What is the best way to prepare for the holiday period?

Selichos

A. Do I know the meaning of the Slichos prayers?
B. What is the function of the Slichos prayers?
C. What are the Yud-Gimmel Midos D’Rachamim (the 13 Character Traits of Mercy) and how do I use them?
D. What is the history of the Yud-Gimmel Midos in the Chumash?

2. ROSH HASHANAH

A. What is the meaning behind Rosh HaShanah?
B. Why does it last 2 days long?
C. Why does Rosh HaShanah come before Yom Kippur? Shouldn’t it be the opposite?
D. What exactly is the type of teshuva that I am supposed to do on Rosh HaShanah?
E. What happened historically on Rosh HaShanah?
F. Do I know the meaning of why we blow the Shofar?
G. What is the reason behind Tashlich (the ceremony of symbolically emptying our pockets into a body of aawater)?
H. What is the custom of the symbolic foods? (saying the V’yehe Ratzons over certain fruits & aavegetables)?
I. Why are we celebrating on a day of judgment ?

Understanding the Machzor

A. Do I know the meaning of the Shmoneh Esrei of Rosh HaShanah?
B. Do I know the meaning of the Musaf Prayer of Rosh HaShanah?
C. Do I know the meaning behind Malchiyos, Shofaros, and Zichronos?
D. Do I know the basic meaning of the Piyutim (Special Holiday Liturgical Songs) of Rosh HaShanah?
E. Do I know .how long each part of the davening takes so I know how to pace myself during the day?
F. Do I know the structure of the overall davening of the day?

3. TSOM GEDALIA

A. What is Tsom Gedalia all about?
B. What is the connection between it and the 10 days of Teshuva?

4. THE TEN DAYS OF TESHUVAH

A. What is my specific responsibility for the 10 days of teshuva?
B. How does it differ from my responsibility during Elul?

Tesuvah

A. How do I do teshuva?
B. Do I know the different steps for teshuva?
C. Do I know the prerequisites for the steps to teshuva?
D. How do I really make a commitment never to do something again?
E. What do I do if every year I find myself making commitments and then breaking them the day after Yom aaKippur? How do I do teshuva if I get discouraged by this process?
F. How do I make a plan for the upcoming year?
G. How do I avoid self-hate during the teshuva process?

5. YOM KIPPUR

A. What happened on Yom Kippur in the Chumash?
B. What is the meaning behind Yom Kippur?
C. How does the fast contribute to the meaning of the day?
D. What is the connection between Sefer Yonah and Yom Kippur?

Understanding the Machzor

A. What are the Ashamnu and Al Chet confessions and do I have meaningful pshat on each?
B. Do I know the Shmoneh Esrei of Yom Kippur?
C. Do I know the Mussaf Prayer of Yom Kippur?
D. Do I know the basic meaning of teh piyutim (Special Holiday Liturgical Songs) of Yom Kippur?
E. Do I know how long each part of the davening takes so I know how to pace myself during the day?
F. Why do we read about the 10 Martyrs on this day?
G. Advanced : Have I learned the basics of the Temple Service on this day?

6. SUCCOS

A. In general, what is the meaning of the holiday of Succos ?
B. What is the relationship between Succos, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur?
C. Do I know the halachos of lulav and esrog?
D. Do I know the meaning behind the lulav and esrog?
E. Do I know the halachos of building a succah?
F. Do I know the meaning of the succah?
G. What is the meaning behind a Simchas Beis HaShoeva?

Hoshanahs and Hoshanah Rabah

A. Why do we say Hoshanahs?
B. Do I know the meaning of all the different Hoshanahs that we say all week long?
C. What is the day of Hoshanah Rabah all about?
D. Why do some people stay up all night learning?

7. SHEMINI ATSERES

A. What is Shmini Atseres?
B. What is Simchas Torah?
C. What is the connection between Shmini Atseres and Simchas Torah?
D. Why is Shmini Atseres a holiday by itself disconnected from Succos?


SUMMARY

Once you have completed the self-evaluation quiz, you are ready to start. Choose some of the topics that are particularly interesting to you and begin to get some answers. Make sure you take good notes and save them for next year. Maybe set up a chavrusa with someone who has researched some of the is­sues you are working on. Or ask your a local Rabbi what would be best to read in order to get the answers to your questions.

1.02 WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR : THE OPPORTUNITY OF ELUL

1.02 WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR : THE OPPORTUNITY OF ELUL

IT IS ESSENTIAL TO BEGIN WORK ON THE MONTH OF ELUL ON THE FIRST DAY OF ELUL

The first moments at the beginning of Elul when the shofar is blown are a tremendous opportunity for growth. Those moments are so great that if you don’t seize the opportuni­ty you can damage yourself:

If a person doesn’t begin the work of te­shuva on the first day of Elul, there is a good chance that the rest of the month will pass without great benefit. It is known that when messages pass by a man to wake him up and he doesn’t utilize them, he is damaged by not grabbing the opportunity. It will not be easy in the future to get affected by those things that should awaken him to teshuva.

Therefore, it is essential to realize how precious are the first moments of the blow­ing of the shofar on Rosh Chodesh. And therefore a man has to wake himself up im­mediately in order to seize the opportunity. (Based on Shaar Elul, HaRav Shaul Wagshall, p.9.)

PREPARING FOR JUDGEMENT

How would one act if he had a trial sched­uled before the most powerful individual in the country? This information can be valua­ble in understanding our relationship to the month of Elul:

Any intelligent person who is scheduled for trial before a mortal king of flesh and blood will surely spend sleepless nights and days preparing his case. He will seek the ad­vice of every knowledgeable person he knows that can help him prepare his case. He will go to great lengths to attain a favora­ble verdict, even if all that is at stake is but a small part of his fortune and he faces no per­sonal risk. Should he not do so as well when he is brought to judgement before the Su­preme King of Kings, the Holy Blessed One, when he himself, his children and his fortune all hang in the balance?

Indeed, nothing can be concealed from the Holy Blessed One. He needs no witness­es and no evidence; He knows all. And no ad­vocates can plead before Him other than a person’s own good deeds and teshuva for his transgressions. Before such an awesome trial any intelligent person must certainly tremble with fear. He must prepare very thor­oughly, examining his actions closely and re­penting his sins. As Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgement, approaches he must seek any advice he can get that will help him ob­tain a favorable verdict.

Therefore, it is important to begin prepar­ing for Rosh HaShana at least thirty days earlier, from Rash Chodesh of the month of Elul. This is the minimum time required to rouse oneself fully from one’s year long stupor.

(Menoras HaMeor-The Ten Days of Teshuva, Rabbeinu Vitchak Abohav)


IF YOU DON’T SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY TO GROW WHEN IT IS THERE. YOU ARE IN DANGER OF LOSING EVEN YOUR PRESENT LEVEL

Rabbi Dessler in Miktav M’Eliahu de­scribes the situation of Yaakov Avinu when he felt that he missed a great opportunity:

We can learn from Yaakov Aveinu how im­portant it is to seize an opportunity for growth . When Yaakov realized that he had passed the place where his forefathers had prayed and he didn’t pray there he immedi­ately made the decision to return. Once he made the decision to return a miracle oc­curred and the long journey was shortened for him by G-d.

Let us introspect for a moment exactly what occurred here; Yaakov hadn’t slept for the 14 years that he learned in the Beis Mid-rash. He was 63 years old. He had passed the point where he was supposed to stop and pray many days already and yet he didn’t even want to rest for a few minutes be­fore he made his decision to return.

Since Yaakov seized the opportunity to re­turn to pray at the future site of the Beis Ha­Mikdash, Hashem caused a miracle to occur that lifted Yaakov out of time and space and immediately brought him to where he need­ed to be.

How important it is to seize an opportunity when it crosses our path! On one hand, when an opportunity for growth comes, we have ~rLPpportunity to rise to a level that is im­possible for us to achieve at another time. But on the other hand, we are in great danger of losing even our present level if we ignore great opportunities that come our way. (Based on Miktav M’Eliahu, Chelek Beis, p.71)

Rabbi Dessler is pointing out to us a very powerful point. When a person has an op­portunity for growth and he seizes it, he can rise to very high levels (as we see from the case of Yaakov Avinu). But he also warns that there is no standing still either. If a person doesn’t utilize an opportunity, not only does

he not go up, but, on the contrary, he goes down, G-d forbid.

We now stand at the gateway to the month of Elul. Elul and the High Holy Days are the most mitzvah intensive time period of the whole year. If one seizes the opportunity, great heights are available to an individual. If a person ignores it, G-d forbid, he might go down in his spiritual level.

THE TIME PERIOD OF ELUL IS A TIME OF GREAT DIVINE FAVOR

The period from Rosh Chodesh of the month of Elul onward is a time of Divine favor. Al­though G-d accepts all year the teshuva of those who turn unto Him wholeheartedly, these days are more appropriate and suitec for teshuva, inasmuch as they are days 0 mercy and good-will. For in the month of Elul. Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the second tablets, waited there 40 days, and descended on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei, when the atonement was completed. From that time on, these days have been set aside as days of good-will, and the tenth day of Tishrei as the Day of Atonement. (Kitzer Shulchan Aruch 128.1)

1.01 PLANNING HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE HIGH HOLIDAYS

1.01 PLANNING HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE HIGH HOLIDAYS

Adapted from Shiurim of Harav Noah Weinberg, Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshivah Aish HaTorah

INTRODUCTION

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.

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