Excitement is building. The fall feasts are drawing near. Just as the weekly Shabbat takes preparation, the fall feasts require preparation. Traditionally, the month prior to the fall feasts, the month of Elul, is used to get ready. For those who grew up with the Gregorian calendar, it is a bit like the end of that year, as introspection and reflection over the preceding months results in a few resolutions for the upcoming year.
The first of the “fall feasts” is Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year). It is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. This also brings about the connection to the “original sin.” Judaism recognizes Rosh Hashanah as the first day of their annual calendar. Thus, the natural inclination that mankind possesses for good, propels us to try to do better this year than last. For those who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and lovers of the God of Israel, how much more should we strive to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? With Rosh Hashanah only a month away, this is a natural time of preparation, serious preparation.
Here are a few of the traditions associated with the month of Elul in Judaism:
- Each day of the month of Elul (except for Shabbat and the last day of Elul), they sound the ram’s horn shofar as a call to repentance.
- When writing a letter or meeting one another, they bless one another by including the greeting, “Ketivah vachatimah tovah”—which roughly translates as “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
- Chapter 27 of the Book of Psalms is added to the daily prayers.
- Check one’s tefillin and mezuzot by an accredited scribe, to ensure that they are in good condition and fit for use.
- During the last week of Elul, in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the Selichot prayers are recited. On the first night they are recited at midnight; on the following days, in the early morning.
When we look at the traditions of Judah, it is easy to become critical. It is also easy to become enamored. Either of these options can lead to trouble. Traditions are not bad. They give us stability, continuity, and a platform from which to teach the commands to our children for generations. Problems arise, when these traditions and customs violate the word of Yahweh, including the New Testament. Thousands of years after the writing of the Scriptures, we find ourselves attempting to walk out His ways. We want to learn from the customs of our forefathers, while honoring our heavenly Father. Finding the proper way to walk (halacha) is a journey in itself.
Years ago, as our family was beginning this Hebraic journey, we would find a body of water at Rosh Hashanah and do a family Tashlich (cast off) ceremony. We would gather rocks and toss them into the water thereby casting our sins into, “the depths of the sea.” Each one of us would take a turn at the edge of the water. While it was on one hand beneficial, we came to feel that we were somehow treading upon the blood of our Messiah. We stopped doing a family Tashlich ceremony because within our spirits it seemed that we were putting a Jewish tradition over Yeshua’s sacrifice. Specifically, that no amount of water could cover them as His sacrifice has done. Later I came to understand that the Tashlich service was of questionable origin and that the rabbinical scholars of the Middle Ages had ceased supporting the Tashlich ceremony. I share this not to criticize those who participate in a Tashlich service, but only to point out an example of where I personally was led to break from tradition in order to honor my Rabbi. Each of us should make our own choice on these matters and be at peace in that place. We should also grant some merciful elbow room to those who view things differently than we do.
One thing that is clear concerning our preparation, it should be from the inside out. While we might choose or not choose to adopt traditions of those who have walked this path before us, our spiritual preparation should precede and exceed our natural preparation. As we head towards His fall feasts, the words of Rabbi Yeshua, our Lord and Master, should be ringing in our ears:
Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous… Matthew 23:26-29
The fall feasts bring a God ordained intensification. The closer we get to His throne, the tests increase and deepen. Perhaps the biggest test of all for mankind is to take an honest look within and make the serious and tangible steps to totally annihilate the shortcomings in our lives - to truly walk in the deliverance attained and promised by Messiah Yeshua. That is the goal, for it is then that we will truly dance with Him at the wedding feast of the Lamb, the Feast of Tabernacles.
Notice that Yeshua’s focus was our inside. He states that it is the cleansing of the inside of the cup that actually cleanses the outside. In our natural mind, our focus is much more on our appearance than our character. Our westernized culture rewards appearance. Yahweh rewards character. Yeshua spent over three years developing the character of His disciples. The Torah is focused on our individual and collective character. I am to work on me and you are to work on you. We each are to become like our Messiah, spotless. This is only possible from the inside out.
Let us take advantage of this time of year, the month of Elul, which is the month of preparation. We can glean from the traditions of Judaism, and even partake in them, as long as the tradition does not violate Scripture or diminish Yeshua. We must first and foremost hear and do the words of Yeshua. If you are looking for a great Bible study for the month of Elul, turn to Matthew 5:3 and begin to earnestly listen to Yeshua. In the, “Sermon on the Mount,” Yeshua deals with the inside of the cup. Topics like pride, lust, anger, forgiveness, and humility are front and center. Go ahead, make His day, use this month seriously addressing those deep issues that have been nagging you for so long.
The key is to prepare. Prepare you. Let the Holy Spirit and the words of Scripture prepare others. Take care of you and your family. Do not look around, look within. Focus on setting the example through developing your character. Let us take the month of Elul, and study Yeshua’s words. Let them seep into our soul. May we study to show ourselves approved by our Maker. Let us contemplate what Paul wrote to the Believers in Rome:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” Romans 12:1-3
For the fall feasts to be sweet and transforming, we must prepare. May our preparation be complete. It is not about getting your camper or tent ready for Sukkot. That’s easy. Work on the inside of the cup. Cleanse and restore that which the enemy would love to destroy. During Elul, doubt, fear, feelings of insignificance and hopelessness need to go. Addictions should be vanquished. You can cover these in a tallit or headcovering, but you cannot hide them from His eyes. Depression has no place at a wedding feast. Go ahead and get the you, out of you. He designed you and set you apart for more. He has a better plan for you. Our Bridegroom longs to come and take his Bride. The delay is not because He is not ready, but rather that His Bride is not yet prepared to receive Him. The closer we get, the harder the preparation becomes. We can do it. We will do it. The power that we attained at Shavuot should propel us forward into the arms of the Living God. Then we shall dance.