Preparing for the New Year (Cantor Ashkenazy)

Cantor AshkenazyI would like to begin with a sincere “thank you” to all of you who have helped to ease my transition to North Shore Synagogue. It has been a pleasure meeting you, whether it be at Shabbat services, Torah Study, at the Brotherhood Barbeque or around the synagogue. I have felt and continue to feel embraced and welcome in my new spiritual home. To those of you I have not yet met, I look forward to seeing and meeting you soon.

High Holy Day preparations are underway and every year this reminds me that not only do we need to prepare the details surrounding the High Holy Days, but we need to ready ourselves. Our tradition gives us a period of time to do this, the Hebrew month of Elul which precedes the High Holy Days. This year, Elul begins on the first of September. The word Elul means “to search” and throughout the course of this month, we search our hearts; reflecting and preparing ourselves for the upcoming Days of Awe.

The letters of Elul form an acronym for the phrase, Ani l’dodi v’ dodi li, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” from Song of Songs 6:3. While this verse is often interpreted as love poetry between a couple, the phrase also represents the love between God and the Jewish people, especially at this time of year when God draws closer to God’s people. During the month of Elul, the shofar is blown daily during morning services, acting as a wake-up call to stir us from our complacency and towards the call of both repentance and forgiveness.

Each day it is also traditional to recite Psalm 27, Achat Sha’alti during the month of Elul through the end of Sukkot. For the twenty-nine days in Elul up to the High Holy Days, the Psalm guides us to do the spiritual work of t’shuvah. In the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we keep up the practice, hoping that our work enables us to be sealed in the Book of Life. Continuing the practice through the seven days of Sukkot allows us to begin the New Year with our focused intention to do better this year.

In English, the text of Achat Sha’alti begins, “One thing I ask of Adonai, is only that I seek to live in the house of Adonai all the days of my life; to gaze upon the beauty of Adonai, and to frequent God’s temple,“ expressing our desire to draw closer to God during this period.

The Jewish notion of t’shuvah literally translates as “return” but we understand it to mean repentance. The literal meaning of t’shuvah enhances our understanding of our annual opportunity to repent. We return to God, to our Source, and start again anew. After the spiritual work of turning, our slates are wiped clean. We forgive both ourselves and others for every time that we missed the mark during the previous year and we try again to be our best selves in the coming year.

At Shabbat services during the month of Elul, we will be incorporating this liturgy into our service and singing Israel Katz’ melody, a popular and meditative setting of the Psalm. It is my hope that this will give us a meaningful opportunity to open our hearts, turn inwards and prepare ourselves for the days of Awe.

Cantor Mariel Ashkenazy