The circling months have brought us back to Elul, the time to prepare for the Days of Awe that fall in the first ten days of next month, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
To “prepare” is to ask ourselves difficult questions about the past year; to acknowledge our mistakes, faults, and shortcomings; and to come to terms with the ways in which we may have –intentionally or unintentionally– hurt others due to our own ignorance, callousness, thoughtlessness, arrogance, jealousy, selfishness, greed, etc.
Once we have completed our internal assessment, then we must “make right” the things that “went wrong” — we must ask forgiveness of, and make amends to, those we wronged; we must say the things we didn’t say that needed to be said; and we must do acts of tikkun (repair) to create goodness in the world.
Only after we have made things right in “this world” (i.e., with those around us) may we atone “in the spiritual world” on Yom Kippur.
And what, one might ask, is the point of all this preparation, repair, and atonement?
The Hassidic Masters analogized our souls to panes of clear glass that we make “dirtier” with every mistake. Dirt gets added each time we misrepresent the truth to ourselves or to someone else; withhold compassion; feel hatred; gossip; belittle ourselves or another; borrow and forget to return; lack gratitude for what we have; pass judgment against others without knowing all the facts; ignore the still small voice as it coaxes us to spread goodness, light, and love throughout this world; etc.
The dirtier the glass becomes, the harder it is for our souls to help us live each moment from our Truth (which is that we exist to share G-d’s Infinite Love with others) — kind of like the way it gets harder to drive a vehicle with a dirty windshield. Over time, lots of little mistakes make it harder to see thru the glass, making it harder for our souls to prevent us from making the bigger mistakes that can happen when we fail to act from Love.
And not only does dirty glass make it harder to see clearly, but we spend time and energy dealing with our emotions about the dirt — managing our guilt and frustration about our past mistakes, or trying to cover them up — which can distract us from focusing on how we could best go about repairing and sharing G-d’s Love today.
Finally, trying to atone in the spiritual realm on Yom Kippur without first understanding the mistakes we’ve made or without making repairs in this material realm is like trying to clean a dirty windshield without washer solution — the dirt gets smeared around, but it can’t be removed!!
So, our internal assessment helps us determine where repairs are necessary in this world, and the repairs in this world spray on cleaning solution, so that on Yom Kippur we can clear away all the dirt from, and every last smudge and smear on, the pane of glass that is our soul.
This Elul, may G-d help all Jews have a better understanding of the mistakes for which they need to atone and the strength to make the repairs necessary, so that we all might enter the New Year better able to share G-d’s Love with others . . . because that, my friends, is what it means “to choose life that you may live” and “to have a sweet New Year.”