The sun is going down here in Pensacola, its descent about to usher in the fourth and final Shabbat of Elul. The moon is already past its last quarter phase, and it will wane over the next handful of days until it becomes a tiny sliver of a crescent, then disappears from view entirely.
That sounds like a lot of endings, but it feels to me like the real beginning of the High Holy Days.
If Elul is the long, slow, ominous clickity-clacking ascent up the roller coaster’s first hill, then we are almost at the top. We have a fabulous view of the world below. Wow, this feels higher than it looked from the ground. Our hearts are beating a little more quickly. We take a few deep, nervous breaths (or I do, at least). In just a few moments, the car will crest the hill and gravity will do its job. It’s far too late to get off, and only now, nearly at the end of that agonizing climb, are we beginning to wrap our minds around the ride we’re in for.
At this point on a roller coaster, a big part of me is usually wondering what the hell I was thinking, strapping into this farkakte machine in the first place. Why do I do this to myself? Why didn’t I stay on the ground? Instead, there I am, subjecting myself to the sheer, dizzying inevitability of the moment before the plunge.
Another part of me is as taut and eager as a leopard ready to pounce. Soon, that part of me says, you finally get to scream out loud.
The Days of Awe are the emotional pinnacle of the Jewish year. All the work we have done during the long slog of Elul, all the soul-searching, all the times we wanted to quit soul-searching, all the faltering steps toward teshuvah, toward repentance and return… it all comes together when we all come together in congregations around the world. Together, riders on the same roller coaster, we will cry out along with the shofar, flying high and diving into the depths at wind-whipping speed.
We aren’t there yet, but I can see the top of the first hill from my vantage point here, on the cusp of the last Shabbat of 5773. When the climb reaches its apex, then the ride will really begin.
#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.