Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, when the fate of all Jews is inscribed for the coming year. It is closely followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, during which we pray that all of our sins of the previous year be forgiven. These days have come to be known as the High Holidays.
Preceding the High Holidays is the month of Elul, the final month of the Hebrew calendar. During Elul, we take the time to reflect on all our deeds and misdeeds of the past year. We ask G-d to judge us favorably and grant us a good and sweet year.
The relationship between the Jewish people and G-d is often compared to that of a human king and his constituency. On an ordinary day, the king is in his palace, surrounded by high ranking ministers and guards. In order to gain an audience with the king, one must go through many levels of bureaucracy and protocol before even being allowed to step foot in the king’s palace, let alone meet with him personally.
Occasionally, however, the king goes for a tour of the outskirts of his country, roaming the fields and villages, meeting with the common folk residing in the far-out regions of his land. It is then that anyone wishing to meet with the king can simply approach him and make a request. Gone are all the formalities and red tape. All one needs to get the king’s attention, is the courage to approach the king and make oneself known.
After such a wonderful encounter with the king, the simple people from the countryside follow the king back to the capital, to reap the benefits of their meeting, and to appreciate the glory of the great king.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement, compared the month of Elul to that time, when the king is in the “field.” Certainly, during the rest of the year, everyone has the ability to connect with G-d through prayer, study, and otherwise. Yet it is during this month that G-d is particularly accessible and available to listen to every single Jew’s wishes.
We, however, must make the first move. G-d is there, but we must seize the opportunity and make ourselves known. We must remind G-d that we care, and we request that the coming year be a year of blessing and happiness. We assure G-d that the coming year, on our part, will be a better year. It will be a year of greater observance and a year of more diligence in our Jewish behavior. We then anticipate that G-d reciprocates, just as the human king would, and grant that all our wishes come true.
At that point, we all follow G-d back to the “palace,” to the High Holidays when we solemnly recognize G-d’s sovereignty, and truly appreciate G-d’s greatness.
Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov is Rabbi and Director of Chabad of Northwest Indiana