The Jewish community is again getting ready for High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will start in early September. These are considered some of the most important holy days in the Jewish calendar.
The process of preparing for the High Holy Days began with the month of Elul, which this year runs from sunset on Aug. 10 until Rosh Hashanah, which starts at sunset on Sunday, Sept. 9.
According to Jewish tradition, during the month of Elul, Moses spent time on Mount Sinai preparing the second set of Tablets after the incident of the Golden Calf. He went up to Mount Sinai on the first day of Elul, and did not return until the end of the 10th day of Tishri, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.
For many observant Jews, from the second day of Elul through the 28th day of Elul, the Shofar is sounded at the end of every weekday morning service. Also many people will visit cemeteries during this time. We are supposed to think about our own mortality and about our obligation to make our remaining lives worthwhile and to make our relationships better in the time we have left. And we need to think about working to forgive and to ask for forgiveness in the coming days.
Toward the end of Elul, one week before Rosh Hashanah, we begin the period of “Selichot.” The term “Selichot,” which is plural for “selicha,” refers to penitential prayers, stating sorrow and a desire for forgiveness. These prayers are recited by Jews starting immediately after midnight on the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur.
That means this year, the Selichot period will run from 12:01 a.m. Sept. 2 (after midnight makes it Sunday morning) through Sept. 17. Traditionally Selichot prayers are said between midnight and dawn, although many Jews recite the prayers during the daily morning service.
A central part of the Selichot prayers is the continued repetition of the Thirteen Atrributes of God, which according to Jewish tradition, were revealed to Moses after the incident of the Golden Calf. This story is found in Exodus 34:6-7. These attributes are traditionally recited in Hebrew, and you might not see how there are 13, but here is the translation:
1. Ha-Shem (unpronounceable Name of God)
2. Ha-Shem (unpronounceable Name of God)
3. El (God)
4. Rachoom (Merciful)
5. Ve Hanoon (Gracious)
6. Erek a-payim (long-suffering)
7. Ve rav hesed (abundant in goodness)
8. Ve-emet (and truth)
9. Notzer hesed la-lafim (keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation)
10. No-say avon (forgiving iniquity)
11. Va-fe-sha (and transgression)
12. Ve-chata (and sin)
13. Ve-nakay ( and who cleanses)
Why are the first three of the Thirteen Attributes the Names of God? According to the Talmud, the different names of God refer to different attributes. God shows mercy, both before one sins and after one sins, but God is also the ruler of the universe.
It seems odd to think that summer is waning, but it is late August. School is starting up, and it will be Autumn in less than a month. So it is a good time for us all to reflect on our lives and to think about how we can get along better with our families, friends and neighbors, as well as those we don’t know.