Once upon a time, you walked by a store and saw a sign: Closed for inventory. Once a year, storekeepers took stock — counting how many items they’ve sold, how many are still on the shelves and what profits and losses were incurred during the past year.
Once they took proper inventory, they had the correct company information available to file proper reports with the government, banks and other institutions.
This coming week begins “inventory time“ in Jewish life. It’s the beginning of the month of Elul, the month preceding the high holidays.
This month brings with it many unique customs, which are meant to put us in the mood for introspection, jolting us out of our slumber and complacency.
The alarm clock of Elul is the shofar, blown every morning except for Shabbat and the eve of Rosh Hashanah.
The prophet Amos asked, “Can the shofar be blown in the city and the people not tremble?” (Amos 3:6) In ancient times, the shofar was a call to war, a call to action.
Aside from its yearly use on Rosh Hashanah and at the closing service of Yom Kippur, it is also the one sound Jews have longed for endlessly, for it will herald the arrival of the Messiah and the ultimate redemption.
That we may hear the shofar sounded and not tremble does not denote a lack of power on the shofar’s part to influence us, but rather our insensitivity to its message: “Wake up, you sleepers from your sleep, and you who slumber arise from your slumber. Search your deeds and return in penitence.” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4)
The shofar is the air raid siren for the soul, though we must attune ourselves to it.
The world may have switched from paper to digital, however it’s an age-old Jewish custom that during the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, when we see or write to friends or acquaintances, we wish that they “be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
This reminds them and us that these are days of judgment, when a reckoning of our heavenly accounts is taking place — the time we ask that heaven have mercy on us and our family. Let us remember to include a request for compassion and mercy for our friends, neighbors and our people.
Elul is the time when we especially try to increase and enhance our performance of mitzvot.
Just as we would examine the shelves in our shop and business and take a proper inventory, we must do the same with our Jewish inventory.
We must consider what losses and damages others have incurred due to our actions or inactions. Do we really have all the good deeds in store that we think we have? What mitzvot must we stock or restock for the coming year?
When taking your Jewish inventory, there is no reason to close shop. There is always more to do.
Here are some practical things you can do to make your pre-holiday experience more meaningful:
• Purchase a book connected to the High Holidays.
• Attend a pre-High Holiday class.
• Increase in prayers.
• Give extra charity every day.
• Study Torah, especially Jewish mysticism,
explaining the High Holidays.
• Focus on redemption, because being the last month of the year, it is one of hope and forgiveness, and that redemption is inevitable. JN
Rabbi Yossi Levertov is the director at Chabad of Scottsdale and dean of the new Yeshiva high school in Scottsdale.