> Holidays > The High Holidays > Elul > Preparing for Rosh Hashanah

The Last Moments: Will You Consider This Year a Great Success or Failure?

September 14, 2008 | by Rabbi Leiby Burnham

A lot depends on the next few weeks.

Our family went to the Michigan State Fair. It all started out picture perfect. Our two older daughters went on the Ferris wheel with my wife, while I stayed with the baby carriage and attempted to obliterate a red star with an automatic BB machine gun. We watched a logging show and acrobats, we went on the merry-go-round, we drank an impossibly huge drum of orange soda, and we watched our kids drive "motorcycles" in circles until everyone was dizzy.

The best part was the petting zoo. I crouched down with my daughters and watched the delight on their faces. I explained to them how Daddy's sweaters were made of the sheep's hair, and then we "touched the sheep's sweater." The bonding I felt with my children at that moment was overwhelming, and I turned to my wife and said, "This is what life is all about!"

But after baking in the sun for a good few hours, the kids started getting cranky. There seemed to be a never ending stream of, "Can we buy some soda? Can we do this again?" Our wonderful day was quickly falling apart and I knew we had to head to the car. However, with about $20 worth of tickets left, we decided to enjoy a few more rides.

My oldest daughter and I boarded a small airplane which went up and down, and up and down. I didn't let it bother me when she said, "Take your hand off of me," even though she had asked me to put my arm around her to quell her fears. I kept my cool when she told me to "stop making those noises," even though my whoops were only an attempt to heighten the excitement of an otherwise repetitive and boring ride. But when she said to me, "You know I really didn't want you to come on this ride with me!" I found my nerves being seriously tested. We had put so much effort into giving her a good time, and I felt like I was being slapped in the face. But the day was almost over and I so much wanted it to end on a high.

Somehow it is always at the very end of something great that an obstacle appears, threatening to erase any gains made until that point. At that moment we either sink or swim. Those last few moments can determine whether the entire experience will be solidified forever in everyone's memory as a great experience or as another failure.


As a nation, we are now in that last moment. Elul, the current Hebrew month, is the tail end of the year, the last few days before Rosh Hashana, when we close out one spiritual year and begin the next. It may have been a great year for some of us, a strained and difficult one for others, an unfulfilling year for others. But this is the month in which we can sink or swim.

By putting in an extra effort to increase our spiritual involvement during this month, we can close out this year as a success.

Somehow, just as our spiritual antenna begin to buzz with excitement of the approaching High Holidays, a wrench gets thrown in our plans to race down the homestretch. We have the new school year for our children, the beginning of a new season at work, and all the catching up to do at work after our summer vacations. It seems as if something out there wants us to miss this incredible opportunity to tie the year together.

By marshalling our forces and putting in an extra effort to increase our spiritual involvement during this month, we can close out this year as a success. One way to do that is to make this month a mini-Rosh Hashana by incorporating its three major themes: Kingship, Remembrance, and Shofrot.

Kingship speaks of the idea that God runs the world and all that transpires in it. One way we can make this real is to write down every day one time you saw God acting on your behalf. It can be making an unnaturally long string of green lights when you were late for work. It can be how that person you were just thinking about calling popped into your office. Your baby might have tripped and fallen, but luckily a couch pillow was right there to cushion the fall. If we look for God's interactions with this world we will find them everywhere.

Remembrances talks about how God remembers all of our actions and cares about everything we do. Unfortunately, we are often the ones who don't care about what we do. During the month of Elul we can try to spend five minutes each night contemplating the past day. What mistakes did we make and how can we avoid them? What things did we do that were just right and we need to ensure that we will continue doing them? When we do this exercise, we start realizing just how important and valuable our actions are.

Shofrot deals with the blowing of the shofar and the relationship it signifies between God and the Jewish people. Throughout the month of Elul, the shofar is blown in the synagogue every morning. Spend a short time each day thinking about your relationship with God and about the changes we want to make before Rosh Hashana.

Let's seize the moment, and soar.


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