Sunday, September 4, 2011

Elul 5: High-Stakes Accounting

The month of Elul is a period of heshbon ha-nefesh, literally, accounting of the soul.

One rabbinic tradition says that the forty days from the beginning of the month of Elul until Yom Kippur mark the period that Moses was on Mt. Sinai a second time, receiving the second set of tablets. The first forty-day period ended disastrously when Moses came down from the mountain to find the Israelites dancing around a molten calf*, and destroyed the first tablets in anger.

The stakes were even higher for this second round, since God had only agreed not to destroy the Israelites after Moses interceded on their behalf. You can imagine them waiting at the bottom of the mountain the second time, feeling relieved, guilty, and more than a little nervous.

As such, this is a time that we should be all the more aware of what we do and how we prepare for the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance that are bracketed by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Now is the time. The stakes are higher now, as we account our souls in preparation to plead for life once again.

(For a list of questions to ask yourself in the month of Elul, click here.)

* Often referred to as the "golden" calf, the Hebrew "egel masekhah" literally means "molten calf," since it was produced by melting down the Israelites' gold and re-casting it.

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