This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
Everyone knows about Rosh Hashanah, which just passed, and Yom Kippur, which is coming up. But what of the days in between? This whole period is known as the Aseret Yamei Teshuva or the Ten Days of Repentance. It's not just the first two and last day that are to be used for reflection on our actions for the past year, and hope for better from ourselves in the future, the intermediate days are also filled with a special energy.
The main mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is to hear the shofar sounded. The Rambam says this is because the piercing sound of the shofar's call should pierce our souls and awaken us to do teshuvah. Teshuva is so much more than what the English translation conveys. The process is so much more than just being remorseful of your bad actions: first, you need to feel that you even did something worth regretting! So for this, we have the shofar to blast us awake. This is a process that ideally should be undertaken all year, but G-d knows that we get distracted easily. Therefore, we have Elul to help start the process. Even if you are a procrastinator and spend Elul as most people spend their August (the two months tend to overlap), there is still hope. Even though Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgement, it's not the final say in our verdict for the year. Whatever decrees are written down, they are done so in pencil, with the next 8 days available to have them replaced and written over with a more favorable outcome.
Once the part of us that yearns to do better is awoken can we sit down to reflect on how we are lacking and then regret our actions. But being regretful and remorseful on their own aren't enough - we have to take it upon ourselves to change. To never do those actions again. Determination to change in a way that is meaningful and lasting is not something that comes easily to most people. Therefore, we have over a week to invest in ourselves and in the coming year. This all culminates with Yom Kippur, where we are able to atone for our previous transgressions and given the opportunity to start the new year with a clean slate.
May everyone have a meaningful week and a gmar chatima tova! (be inscribed for a good year!)