Today, our preparation for the Marathon begins. In 40 days, we will celebrate Yom Kippur. A day devoted exclusively to approach God, begging forgiveness from Him and pledging to make major changes in our lives. Because of the intensity of our prayers during Yom Kippur, we spend most of that day in the synagogue, I could see Yom Kippur as the day of a spiritual marathon. And just so no one would run a marathon without a serious prior training, to be in good shape for Yom Kippur, we need an intensive training in the field of introspection, repentance and reassessment of our priorities.
That is why TODAY we begin training for the marathon of Yom Kippur.
How do we prepare ourselves for Yom Kippur?
Today is the second day of the month of Elul. The Sephardic custom is to recite the Selihot from today until Yom Kippur (forty days). “Selihot” is a special prayer that leads us to reflect on our actions and ask forgiveness from HaShem for our mistakes and misconduct. Selihot is traditionally said before dawn, before the morning prayer (Shacharit), although technically speaking, one can also recite Selihot at night (after midnight), or even during the day.
The Ashkenazi custom is to start the Selihot service the Sunday prior to Rosh Hashana. However, when Rosh Hashana falls on Monday or Tuesday, as this year (it can never fall on a Sunday) the Ashkenazi communities begin Selihot two Sundays before Rosh Hashana. In the Ashkenazi communities this year Selihot will begin on Sunday September 6th.
In addition, throughout the month of Elul, the Ashkenazim and most Sepharadim (Moroccan, Persian, etc. except the Sepharadim from Syria) have a tradition of sounding the Shofar every morning, at the end of Shaharit.
The aim of the Selihot and hearing the sound of the Shofar is to be inspired to begin the process of Teshuba. Teshuba involves introspection and repentance. What ultimately must mean that we come bak or get closer, depending on each individual starting point, to God. This elevated spiritual goal, which is what we aspire to achieve in Yom Kippur, can not reached overnight or in one day, regardless of its intensity. To achieve this goal we must go through a serious reflection period in which we begin to review our actions and particularly our values. During these days we also reexamine our existential goals and identify the material distractions that moves us away from those goals. If we take this preparation seriously, we will achieve the mental clarity we need to make the best decisions for the next year during this coming Yom Kippur.