Most years you probably don’t even notice Elul. Most years, you mark Rosh HaShanah on your calendar, maybe plan a special meal, maybe choose what to wear as it gets closer. Then you walk into the sanctuary and KA-POW! it’s the new year.
But this year, we’re not walking into the sanctuary. This year, we are gathering in a “cathedral in time,” to quote Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Our “space” will be virtual. Each of our homes will be what the Rabbis already called them two millenia ago, a mikdash m’at, a “small holy-place.”
For those long-ago Jews, the Mikdash was the central Temple in Jerusalem. It was “God’s House” and had stood for hundreds of years. Its destruction in 70, after four years of war with Rome, was unthinkable…until it happened.
As was COVID-19 to us.
But the Rabbis, who were then emerging as the leaders of the Jewish people, didn’t give up. Now, they decided, our own houses would be God’s house and our own tables the altar. Our own meals would provide opportunities to connect with God and each other, as the rituals and celebrations at the central Temple had done for as long as anyone could remember.
This year, on Rosh HaShanah, we will walk into our living rooms, or bedrooms, or back porches, or perhaps sit in our cars — wherever we have designated as our sacred space. If we can, we will have candles and matches and a Kiddush cup ready. Perhaps we will have flowers. I hope we will dress up, too. And we will enter into the New Year of 5781 with gratitude for our blessings, with mourning for our losses, and with determination and resilience to continue living lives of meaning and action in the year 5781.
I invite you to spend some time in Elul with me, getting ready.