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Elul and Good People

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “The good person is not he who does the right thing, but he who is in the habit of doing the right thing.”

It is simple, and perhaps easy, to do a single good deed, to volunteer at a soup kitchen on a Sunday, to write a check to a needy charity, to offer one apology to a person wronged, or to attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.  These are all worthy endeavors but Judaism is not about the solitary act but instead about a litany of acts, a lifetime of doing right.  Our faith is about creating a discipline of doing, about ritualizing behaviors.

This is why Judaism sets aside not two days for the task of repentance, or even ten, but instead forty.  On Tuesday, with the new moon of Elul, this forty day period of introspection and repair began.  It began with Rosh Hodesh Elul, gains momentum with the meditative Selichot service (on Saturday, September 20th at 7 pm), further intensifies with the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and reaches a crescendo with the fasting of Yom Kippur.  These forty days mirror the days Moses spent on Mount Sinai communing with God.  They are intended so that we might turn inward and examine our ways and repair our wrongs.

Repentance, teshuvah, is about turning and changing.  This of course is no simple task.  It is not about reciting one Al Cheyt, one moment of apology, one solitary word of forgiveness, but instead about building a life centered on words and deeds.  It is about stringing together a few acts until they become a habit. That cannot be accomplished in a mere two days, no matter how meaningful our services are, no matter how heartfelt our praying and singing might be.

Each of these days we are granted an opportunity for renewal and repair.  Set aside moments during the course of this month and ask yourself what you would like to change, from whom you would like to offer an apology and seek forgiveness.

We are given a blessing each and every one of these days to create new habits.  And from there we begin to build the title of good person.