Whenever I teach about ritual or work with people to prepare for a life cycle transition, I always stress that what makes a ritual powerful and effective is the preparation and intention with which we approach the event. While there is a certain “magic” to liminal moments, we cannot simply show up and experience a transformation. The same is true for how we experience the holidays of the Jewish year. Not only must we appropriately prepare for each holiday, but also we must consider how we want to connect this year.
Thankfully, we have the entire month of Elul to prepare ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually for the High Holidays. We are encouraged to make space for self-reflection and check in with ourselves and our communities. The hope is that after spending an entire month on daily (or occasional) self-reflection we will be ready to step into the new year renewed, refreshed, and ready both to receive the year and to be an active participant in its creation.
Jewish tradition offers Elul as a framework for how to prepare for the High Holidays. How we will prepare for the rest of the year’s holidays is up to us. As the editor of Ritualwell.org, I was excited to partner with Ask Big Questions because words and questions hold great power for transformation. The questions in Ask Big Questions' guides are opening and encourage us to think more deeply about who we are and the role we play in our communities and in the wider world. The questions posed by the Jewish holiday guides can help us to prepare in the days and weeks leading up to each holiday so that we may arrive at the appointed time with a renewed sense of presence and purpose. Though the High Holidays prompt us to engage in particularly deep self-reflection, every holiday can serve as an opportunity to notice how we and our communities have changed (or stayed the same) in the past year, and to set goals and write prayers for the coming year.
In order to truly be moved and transformed by these celebrations we must also take time to prepare. Whatever the style of learning and engaging, finding a framework for preparation will ensure that we are able to enter each holiday centered, and ready to envision the path ahead.
Rabbi Roni Handler is the editor of Ritualwell.org, an interactive website through which one can find, create, and share contemporary and traditional rituals to enhance everyday life and Jewish connection.