This coming Saturday evening (August 18) at nightfall is Rosh Hodesh Elul, the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, the month that precedes the High Holidays. From the first of Elul to Yom Kippur is exactly 40 days, the same period of time that Moses spent on Mount Sinai communing with God and receiving Torah.

Tradition beckons us during these 40 days beginning Saturday night to “turn” and “return” in a process called t’shuvah, the central theme of the High Holiday season. The goal of t’shuvah is to return to our truest selves, to God, Torah, Jewish tradition, community, family, and friends. It requires us to make amends, to apologize for wrongs committed and seek forgiveness, to forgive when approached by others seeking the same.

As we prepare to enter Elul, I share a prayer written by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi called “T’shuvah – Coming Back Around” (All Breathing Life Adores Your Nam e –At the Interface Between Poetry and Prayer, with a Forward by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner and Edited by Michael L. Kagan, published by Gaon Books, 2011, page 97):

“A year has gone by, / I say with a sigh – / O Lord I did not progress. / Your Torah not learned, / Your Mitzvot not earned, / This I am forced to confess.

I undertake / This to remake / My life anew to fashion. / So help, me please, / From sin to cease / And only to You / Give my passion.

I seek Your light, / I need Your aid. / Without Your joy / I am afraid. / Heal me God / In body and in soul.

Please, good God, / Pour out Your blessing, / That in Your sight / We’ll be progressing. / O Lord above, / Let us feel Your love / And perceive You, / Our souls caressing.

May we not be / Disappointed / In waiting for ben David / Anointed. / With Your open hand, / Bless our Holy Land / And our leaders / Whom we have appointed.”