Tonight is the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Elul, and that means not only that there is a full moon that will pass across tonight’s sky, but that in two weeks Rosh Hashanah will arrive.
Tradition teaches that Elul is the “get ready” month before the commencement of the Days of Awe.
In the spirit of David Letterman, I offer here my list of top ten suggestions of things to do to get ready for the High Holidays in descending order of importance:
#10 – Relax: Take your shoes off. A USA Today study reported years ago that those who habitually kick off their shoes tend to live three years longer than the average American. Your feet are like the soul. Feet bound for too long stink and cloistered souls block the light. Slow down. Think about where you are in your life, what you want and need, whether you are happy or sad, fulfilled or frustrated.
#9 – T’shuvah: Be self-critical. Identify those things that keep you from being your better self. Commit to breaking at least one bad habit in the New Year. For example, let go of the anger, resentment, and hurt that you’ve allowed to build up over time. Stop writing everything that comes to mind on social media if what you say is hurtful to others. Assess whether you’ve been honest in your business affairs and taken advantage of others even if what you did wasn’t against the letter of the law. Commit to not doing those things in the New Year. Focus on the good qualities of others and not their bad qualities. Stop complaining about other people. Assume responsibility for what you yourself have done wrong. Clean up your language. If you wouldn’t say something in front of a child or your mother, don’t say it in front of anyone.
#8 – Meditate: The American Institute on Stress reports that 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints. Meditation is one means to become more self-conscious, self-aware and calmer. Meditating can be done anywhere and at any time, when listening to music, looking at fine art, reading wonderful literature, exercising, walking in nature, and sitting still. Meditation trains us to listen mindfully and to be present fully with our loved ones, friends and even strangers. Become at-one with your environment.
#7 – Exercise: Walk, swim, ride a bike, go to the gym, keep your body toned. Whenever possible, walk stairs and park at the far end of a parking lot. The calories burned this way will shed pounds of fat over time, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and afford you a greater sense of well-being. Eliminate sugar and salt, soft drinks, packaged food, and fast food from your diet. Reduce the size of your portions. Don’t eat late at night.
#6 – Do at least one of the following each day:
• Have an ice cream
• Eat a piece of dark chocolate
• Buy a loved one a gift for no reason
• Stretch whenever you feel like it
• Sing in the shower
• Say hello to and smile at a perfect stranger
• Let that guy cut in front of you in traffic
• Pet a dog
#5 – Say “No” to requests if you feel already overtaxed and exhausted. Say “Yes” whenever you know doing so will feed your soul and open your heart. Read great literature. Learn from great teachers. Do random acts of kindness. Give tzedakah whenever asked by someone on the street, and don’t question his/her motives. Visit the sick. Call the lonely. Touch, hug and kiss an elderly person who may not have been touched in a long while.
#4 – Friendships: Apologize to the people that you’ve wronged and do so without condition. Don’t blame anyone for your own mistakes. Express gratitude freely. Compliment people when they have done something that inspired your gratitude and praise.
#3 – Worship: Studies indicate that those who worship regularly in community are less lonely, are healthier and live longer than those who never come to religious services.
#2 – Shabbat: Light candles every Friday evening, even when you’re alone. Buy or bake challah for ha-motzi. Drink quality wine for kiddush. Acknowledge God’s presence. Remember before Whom you stand. Sense being at one with everyone and everything around you (i.e. at-one-ment).
#1 – Torah: Learn Torah and find special verses that reflect your faith and values. Make them your own (e.g. “Vay’hi or – Let there be light!” “V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha – Love your fellow as yourself,” “V’ahavta et Adonai Eloheicha – Love Adonai your God,” “Tzedek tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice shall you pursue,” “Shiviti Adonai l’negdi – I have set God opposite me,” “Sh’ma Yisrael – Listen O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai alone!”) Commit your favorite verses to memory. Repeat them to yourself as if they are your mantras.
These are my 10 suggestions for the days remaining in the month of Elul – and beyond.
May the New Year return each of us to lives of kindness, wonder, sweetness, goodness, family, friends, community, the Jewish people, Torah, and God.
L’shanah tovah u-m’tukah (For a good sweet New Year)