My good friend and colleague Rabbi Phyllis Sommer sets up a challenge to blog the month of Elul. I have taken this challenge and each month I write several before ultimately giving up well short of my goal. This is usually a result of needing to prepare for the High Holy Days and the stress of starting a new year in the synagogue. Not to mention the kids starting a new year of school.
Yet something has always gnawed at me whenever I set this goal and fail to achieve it. I mention this because I am also trying to get myself back into shape. Even though I exercise regularly, the weight has been creeping back on for the past year and a half. And each time the scale is unhappy with me, I find myself feeling the same way as when I fail to blog each day of Elul.
Finally today it dawned on me that blogging Elul every day, losing weight, and preparing for the High Holy Days have something deeply profound in common: the need to set realistic expectations of oneself.
Each year during the Yamim Noraiim, the High Holy Days, we are challenged to right the wrongs of the past and set a new course, a new direction for our lives. It is more than simply making New Year’s Resolutions; it is really about reorienting our very souls.
And yet, many of us set up unrealistic expectations both of ourselves and others during this period. How many of us expect others to finally step up and apologize for that slight, only to be bitterly disappointed when they do not? Or how many of us are saddened when a genuine apology given is not well received?
How many of us expect to show up at services twice a year and to find deeply profound meaning, only to find ourselves lost and uninspired?
This year, for the first time in my life, I have signed up to run a half-marathon. I have never run more than six miles in my life, and now I have committed to running a little over thirteen. But in order to do it, I began training this past June. I am now up to 8 miles, with more to go. It has not been easy and there are certainly days I do not wish to run. My knees are sore. My ankles are sore. And yet, I feel empowered and emboldened each day I get out there no matter the distance I run.
The month of Elul in many ways is the warm up. It is a chance to begin to set the stage, to get ourselves ready for a challenging time. Whether it is running a half-marathon or going to shul for the High Holy Days. Both require preparation, commitment, and time. For if it is worth doing, it is worth investing of oneself in the process in order to achieve and in order to find meaning.