Elul: Rituals and Activities

Some practices and rituals to try out or adapt during the month of Elul.

  • Consider the Hermit card of the tarot and the message of Elul.  What private journeys must you take before you are ready for the new year?  What truths must you seek out?  What hidden things must you illuminate?
  • Connect to the turning of the seasons at Elul.  This season, just before Rosh Hashanah, as we move into the dying of the old year, before the rebirth of life at Tu B’Shevat in the spring.  Buy a new calendar and think about your goals for the year.  What do you want to do in the coming year?  Using the energy of the Yud, which numerically equals 10,  make a list of 10 things that are really important to you in the coming year.

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  • Tzovah Activities
    • Think of those who serve as guardians of the doorways in your life.  Whether that be literal a doorman or people who help you through major transitions and find ways to show them thanks.
    • Smudge or wash the doorways of your house with bundled sage and other herbs to clean your comings and goings, and call on the energy of the Tzovah face of Shekhinah to guard your doorways.  It is also a traditional time to check your mezuzah and ensure the scroll is in good condition.  If you don’t have a mezuzah, this is a great time to put one up.
  • Spiritual Focus Activities: Community through Resources
    Elul is the month where we turn inward to prepare for the High Holy Days, the ultimate expression of Community through Resources in Judaism.  The activities are intended to allow for the needed turning inward — but still engage you in communal ritual practices that are often experienced by the expression of communal resources.
    • Encourage your community to collect the “heels” of your challah each shabbat this month for Tashlich offering for Rosh Chodesh Tishrei, better known as Rosh Hashanah.
    • It is traditional to add Psalm 27 to the daily prayers during the month of Elul, although no consensus as to exactly where it goes in the liturgy. Try adding Psalm 27 to the end of your daily morning or evening prayers, or where ever else it feels natural.  If you don’t have a daily prayer practice, consider beginning one — even if it is just saying this psalm twice a day for the month.
    • Get things in order for the new year.  Buy or check your mezuzah or tefillin.  Decide where you are going to High Holiday services.  Make donation to charity.  Call your mother/father, grandparents, or relative you haven’t spoken to in ages.
    • Take on a selichot practice either just before Rosh Hashanah or as a daily practice, following Sephardic tradition.  However you choose, take time during Elul taking a personal inventory of your year and what you’ve achieved and where you’ve failed.  This is not for beating yourself up, but think about what promises you made to yourself and G!d(dess) and which you kept and which you didn’t.  This is about determining for yourself the type of life you are leading and if it’s the life YOU think you should be living. Think of it like shedding your skin and regenerating yourself. Perhaps you want to collect small stones or bread crumbs to represent both your successes and failures that you can cast away for Tashlich at Rosh Hashanah.
  • New Year of Cattle Activities:
    In Jewish tradition there are four new years.  The 1st of Elul is called the new year of Cattle, because there was a cattle tithe due on this day.  But, like Tu B’Shevat, which also was a tax day, we can transform this day to allow us to look at our relationship to the resources we consume — especially in the form of animals raised for meat — and what is says about us as a community.
    • Create a sacred meal of holy steak or hamburger.  Be sure you know where that animal was raised.  It should be grass fed and free range.  Try to meet the person who raised it by purchasing it directly from the farmer at a farmer’s market.  
    • Give an offering of thanks to both the animals whose lives we take to sustain our own and also the people who dedicate their lives to raising these animals in a respectful and sustainable way – and send energy out the world that more and more people may take on these  respectful practices.
    • Abstain from meat from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Rosh Hashanah.  Use this fast to both honor the sacrifice of cattle at this New Year of the Cattle and to prepare yourself for Rosh Hashanah by not feasting on the misery of other creatures.  Educate yourself about factory farming practices, if you are not already educated, and find local, sustainable farms from which to purchase your beef and chicken.  Try to only consume dairy and eggs from local, free-range, sustsainable farms.  Keep a journal of this experience, so you can see how easy or difficult it is for you and to share your experiences with others.