As Labor Day arrives, we reluctantly move out of a summer leisure mode to plan our activities for the coming season. Life becomes back-to-school, back-to-work, back-to-business-as-usual.
But in the Jewish calendar, we're also deep in the month of Elul, a time of reflection and a time to take stock of our lives. Selichot, the late-night service of penitence that ushers in the High Holy Days, is a week away. Rosh Hashanah will arrive in two weeks.
At this time of year, it's easy to get caught up in busyness, both secular and religious.
Those who are active in Jewish life can get wrapped up in the logistics and the business of the High Holy Days — organizing synagogue activities and planning holiday meals and visits. Oddly enough, even for those who are most in tune with the Jewish calendar, it can be easy to neglect taking the personal time needed for reflection.
Traditionally, the shofar is sounded each day during Elul, except on Shabbat. It's a spiritual wake-up call to jolt us into a deeper kind of awareness.
For those who do not attend daily services, it would be wise to take time each day this month to listen to an internal shofar.
Unlike the secular New Year, when we make resolutions to lose weight, finish that novel or remodel the kitchen, Elul is a time to examine who we are as human beings and to resolve to behave better. Judaism is not about feeling good but about doing good.
Have we inadvertently hurt a friend, colleague or relative? Have our words been harsh or unfair? Did we fail to visit a sick friend?
Did we also take time to care for our own bodies and souls? Did we walk outdoors or did we shut out the sounds of the natural world with the constant blare of technological cacophony?
The shofar commands us to stop, look and listen. To pay attention to how we live and what we're doing. To forgive ourselves, to grant forgiveness and move on. It's not too late.