Sign In Forgot Password

Elul: Spiritual Prep


The word Elul is said to be an acronym of "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li - I am my beloved and my beloved is mine" from Song of Songs 6:3. The “Beloved” is said to be the Holy One and the "I" is the people of Israel. In the Aramaic language, which was spoken by the Jewish people at the time that the names of the months were set, the word Elul means "search." This is certainly an appropriate name for this period of time when we are encouraged to search our souls. 

Elul is also a significant period of Teshuvah (repentence) because this is the same period Moses spent on Mount Sinai pleading for forgiveness for the people of Israel. 

What Can I Do to Prepare for the High Holy Days? 
Elul is a period of preparation, both spiritual and practical. Some things you can do to make the most of Elul are: 

  • Allocate time during the month for personal reflection, meditation and prayer. Try and conduct a full Cheshbon HaNefesh - “accounting of the soul.” 
  • Approach others whom you may have hurt during the past year and seek their forgiveness. Our tradition teaches us that for sins between the individual and God, forgiveness is guaranteed, but for forgiveness between one individual and anther, we must actively seek their forgiveness. 
  • Hear the sounding of the Shofar every weekday morning. /span>
  • Say Psalm 27 every morning. 
  • Study the Makhzor and other works that will inspire you to repentance. 
  • Give Tzedakah. 
  • Visit the burial place of loved ones. 
  • Attend a Selichot service and say Selichot prayers. 
  • Have your Tallit cleaned; have your Tefillin and Mezzuzot checked
  • Purchase new clothes to wear for the new year
  • Stock up on honey for a sweet new year... 
  • Send Shanah Tovah greetings to family and friends.
  • Hear the sounding of the Shofar.
  • Study the story of the Akedah - the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) and/or Bereshit - the story of Creation (Genesis 1).
  • Share a festive meal with family and friends featuring sweet foods for a sweet new year (such as apples & honey).
  • Get ready by listening to the tunes of the holiday

Rosh Hashana



The Jewish New Year

Rosh=head Hashanah=the year

Pronounced in Hebrew “Rosh ha-shah-nah” with a long o and the accent on “nah”; pronounced in Yiddish/English (Yinglish!) “Rush-a-shanah” with the accent on “sha”. Spelled Rosh Hashana or Rosh Hashanah (the “h” at the end stands for the Hebrew letter hey which appears in the Hebrew spelling as the last letter.)



 The months of the Jewish year  are counted from the spring (Nisan). The “Jewish” part of the year, or the “new year of being Jewish” originates from our experience at Sinai, i.e. Passover , the Exodus, and the receiving of the Torah. We celebrate that theme of newness in Nisan. BUT there is also a “universal” New Year- that is, when the agricultural cycle starts, when the year organically begins, i.e. the “birthday” of the whole world. That is in the fall, in Tishre, with Rosh Hashanah. 



The first of the Hebrew month Tishre, which occurs in the fall. In Israel and abroad in Orthodox and Conservative congregations two days are observed. Some Reform and Reconstructionist congregations observe only one day although in Toronto all observe two. 



The name “Rosh Hashanah” actually appears only once in the Bible, in Ezekiel 40:1 where it doesn’t designate the festival but just the “beginning of the year.” The festival of “memorial proclaimed by the blast of the shofar” is described (though not named Rosh Hashanah) in Leviticus 23:23-25 and Numbers 29:1-6.



Rosh Hashanah is the one holiday, apart from Yom Kippur, celebrated mostly in a synagogue. A joyful family meal is served both at the evening before and each day of the holiday but the main rituals are done in synagogue: announcing the actual New Year (this year it is 5767) and hearing the shofar (the ram’s horn) blast. Tashlich is a ceremony of ceremonially throwing your sins into the water (by casting bread) done after services on the first day or on the second day if the first falls on Shabbat. There is a Sephardic tradition to have a second night “Seder” with special foods whose names contain puns on blessings for a happy new year.



Round challah to symbolize the cycle of the year; apples and honey to symbolize fruitfulness and sweetness; fish or fish head to symbolize abundance (the head also represents our desire to be the “head” and not the “tail” and also the “head” of the year). Some Ashkenazim eat carrot tzimmis (stew) because carrots in Yiddish (meren)  means “increase.” On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, we eat a new fruit which we have not yet eaten this season so we can say the “shehechiyanu” blessing over something new. Many people choose a pomegranate because it is claimed that this fruit contains 613 seeds just as there are 613 mitzvot. 



“Shanah Tovah”= a good year. We start saying this a month before the actual holiday, and all through the holiday itself, until Yom Kippur. Some people say “l’shanah tovah” which literally means “for a good year”- part of a longer phrase which you will sometimes see on Rosh Hashanah cards, “l’shanah tovah tikateivu”-may you all be inscribed for a good year. This “inscription” is for the Book of Life, which is a metaphor for the Eye that Sees and the Ear that Hears all; that is, there is something above our own small selves to which we answer. 


Rosh Hashana Recipe: Vanilla Cinnamon-Baked Apples

Here's a wonderful and creative recipe courtesy of our member Bonnie Stern. You can see her great recipes every Saturday in the National Post. To receive her monthly newsletter Food News, click here

Makes 8 servings
  • 8 baking apples (like Spy or Golden Delicious), about 8 oz each
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp butter - melted, optional
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla paste or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • cooking liquid:
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • Remove core of the apples with an apple corer, small knife or melon baller, leaving about 1/2" at the base. Peel the top one third of each apple. Place apples in 9"x13" baking dish.
  • In a small bowl combine brown sugar, walnuts with cinnamon, butter and vanilla. Put about 1 tbsp mixture into each apple center.
  • Combine honey with apple juice and lemon juice in a small bowl and pour over and around apples. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 350F oven for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 20 to 25 minutes longer or until apples are very tender and browned.  Baste a few times during baking and add some water or more apple juice if pan seems dry. Serve with juices spooned over and pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top.

Yom Kippur



The Day of Atonement
Pronounced in Hebrew “Yom Key-poor” with a long o in Yom and the accent on “poor”; pronounced in Yiddish/English (Yinglish!) “Yum-kipper” with the accent on “kip”. Also called “Yom Hakippurim” or the day of (many) atonements.

 Once a year Jews confess their sins before G-d and before the whole community. This confession is communal because Judaism teaches that every human being “misses the mark” but has the opportunity to improve themselves in the future. The idea of repentance is central to Yom Kippur: we are supposed to ask each and every person we have wronged for forgiveness in the days before, and to sincerely change our behaviour for the better.

The tenth of the Hebrew month Tishre, which occurs in the fall. It is the climax of ten days of repentance after Rosh Hashanah, and of the “high holy days.”  

In Leviticus 16:30 we read, “For on this day shall atonement be made for you, from all your sins you shall be cleansed...” The requirement to fast is Leviticus 16:29, (worded as an “affliction of the soul”) as well as the prohibition against working on Yom Kippur. There is a lengthy description of the High Priest’s ritual on Yom Kippur in verses 1-34.

Yom Kippur, like Rosh Hashanah, is celebrated mostly in the synagogue. Kol Nidre, the special and haunting chant which opens the holy day, is recited, usually with at least one Torah scroll and two witnesses in the front of the synagogue. The next day there is special liturgy, and the day ends with one long blast of the shofar signalling the conclusion of the fast. There is a custom of wearing white, to show that we are confident in our eventual forgiveness (as long as we repent!) and our return to purity as it says in Isaiah 1:18 that our sins will be made “as white as snow.” Many people refrain from wearing leather shoes, to deny ourselves that “luxury.” In some communities people also do not shower, put on perfume, or engage in sexual activity. This is to “simplify” our lives and to bring us right back to our essence in order to spiritually concentrate on the grand themes of the day rather than on our physical needs.

Nothing!! The main ritual is the 25 hour fast, from sundown the night before to after sundown the next day. This is a complete fast, with no food and no water. There is a festive meal before the fast. Before the meal memorial candles are lit for our loved ones now deceased. After the meal the holiday candles are lit, and the fast begins with that lighting. Of course, anyone who is ill, pregnant or nursing is absolved from fasting, and if you must take medicine during the 25 hours that is permitted. There is a festive meal to break the fast.
 Children from 12 and up generally fast the whole time; those younger can “try it out” in increasing increments through the years though not if it is deemed unhealthy to the child. 

We continue to say “Shanah Tovah” (a good year), for the rest of the month. Many people replace that, or add to it, by saying “G’mar Chatimah Tovah” which means “may you be sealed (in the Book of Life) for goodness” indicating that the “writing” is done on Rosh Hashanah but the book is “sealed” on Yom Kippur. This is also said in a shortened form, “G’mar Tov” (“a good seal!”) 


Fri, 25 September 2020 7 Tishrei 5781