This Shabbat we usher in the new month of Elul. It is the month in which we begin the preparations for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year; not just thinking about the honey cake recipes and the table arrangements but focusing on our spiritual preparations as well. Just as we need time to get ready to celebrate Rosh Hashana in our homes, we need time to prepare our spiritual selves as well. During this season of Elul we prepare to wipe the slate clean, we have the chance to heal the hurts, make right the wrongs and to begin again, refreshed and cleansed. And it is the time of year when we hold a mirror up to ourselves and really see what is there, warts and all, cracks, stains, the good and the bad. And then we make our resolutions. We think about what we would like to change, how we can be better, what challenges we would like to set for ourselves in the coming year. Some of us write them down, others just spend the time thinking and then we embark on the new year refreshed and ready to implement the changes.
But too often we forget that none of those changes will happen without practice and consideration. I have been enjoying the Olympics these past few weeks and to see the skill and talent of the athletes is incredible. But sometimes we forget the amount of hard work, dedication and commitment it takes to reach that elite level in sport. Nobody would imagine that someone like me could dive into a swimming pool and beat one of the Campbell sisters. That is not because I do not have the ability or the potential, but at this point that is all I have. To become an athlete of that calibre takes dedication and commitment. It takes a lot of hard work, making mistakes along the way but it does not happen just by thinking about it from a lounge chair. (Which is a shame because if that were the case Australia would have many brilliant sportspeople.) To become a champion takes skill and effort. Pirkei Avot, the Jewish Ethics of the Sages, says “lefum tza’ara agra” according to the effort is the reward.
It is the same with Elul and making changes in our lives. It is easy to make resolutions but difficult to implement them. It is much easier to go through life as we are, to continue to stay in the safe, comfortable places we find ourselves. We would never expect to be proficient or an expert at anything just by sitting back and thinking about it or watching, we need to do. But in other areas of our lives we think we can be experts straight away with no assistance, no commitment, no practice. To become a better person, to become kinder, more compassionate, more loving, does not just happen. It takes time, effort and commitment, just like sport. And just like working to master any task, after a time it can become just a part of who we are, a regular part of our lives, not something we need to constantly think about and focus upon.
I hope that this new month of Elul can bring for us all a time of reflection and contemplation, of shaping our future and then working to make our dreams a reality in the year ahead.