Tools For Creating a New Heart in Elul
Updated: Oct 6, 2021
By Rabbi David Jaffe
Many of you saw our 40 Days of Teshuva film this past Tisha B’Av, which featured Jewish rituals of Shofar, prayer and Teshuva as tools for mourning and dismantling racism. Today we begin what are formally known in Jewish tradition as the 40 days of teshuvah, from Rosh Chodesh Elul (August 9) through Yom Kippur (September 16). Just like the film captured how these spiritual tools can be used to open the heart to heal from racism and white supremacy, these same tools are a central feature of the period we enter today.
These are called the 40 Days of Teshuvah because they correspond to the period that Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to plead for forgiveness for the Israelite’s idol worship and to receive the second set of tablets. According to Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (d. 2005, Israel), the key spiritual task of these days is to prepare our hearts to receive Torah anew as we enter the covenant with God on Yom Kippur. While the first tablets were given as a gift with little preparation, they couldn’t co-exist with the imperfection in the world and needed to be smashed. The method of preparation for the giving of the second tablets during these 40 days of teshuva, is much better calibrated for “the world as it is,” full of imperfection and constriction.
These second tablets, which are related to the heart of the Jewish people, are hewn from sapphire by human hands, rather than given by God, symbolizing the need to prepare our hearts to receive. There are many ways to prepare during this period, including Teshuva in thought and deed. We invite you to our annual Teshuva Workshop to do some of that reflection, prayer and spiritual preparation together. The tablets were carried in an ark, symbolizing the need to build containers for holiness and spiritual experience, which can include daily practice, our religious and spiritual communities, spiritual check-ins with a partner and practice groups. The Israelites blew the shofar when Moses ascended the mountain and daily for the next month. We start blowing the shofar every morning from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Rosh Hashanah and one last time at the end of Yom Kippur. I encourage everyone to hear shofar daily this month, whether in synagogue, blowing on your own at home or finding a good YouTube video of shofar blasts. Like Yehudah Webster demonstrated in the 40 Days of Teshuva film, the shofar is a spiritual tool of transformation.
It serves to wake us up, soften our hearts and arouse God’s attention.
At The IOWA Project, we featured these processes of Teshuva in encountering the brokenness of Tisha B’Av and the ongoing devastation of racism. We are still in a world of brokenness and imperfection. These 40 Days of Teshuva leading up to At-one-ment on Yom Kippur are designed for us - imperfect people in a broken world. May we use these 40 days to come together as Jewish communities and allies to blow shofar and engage in the reflective action of Teshuva and create in each of us a new heart capable of covenantal living with God and all creation.