The High Holy Days will be upon us within a few weeks. The month preceding Rosh Hashanah – Elul, the sixth month of the Jewish year – has no special importance in the Bible or in early rabbinic writing. Various customs arose sometime during the first millennium that designated Elul as the time to prepare for the High Holy Days. Because these days are filled with so much meaning and potency, they require a special measure of readiness. We are called upon to enter them thoughtfully and to consider what they mean. As the Maharal of Prague said, “All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, look into your souls and search your deeds, that you may make confession.”
Over the next few weeks, I will share some vignettes that may help us all better prepare for these holiest of days. This week’s story is by Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi Emerita of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills CA.
Henry S. Cohn
Rocks, Pebbles, Sand
The instructor filled an empty jar with rocks. “Is it full?” Then he poured a pitcher of pebbles into the jar. “Full now?” Next, he poured sand. “Full?” Finally, he poured water. “Now it’s full.” “What do you learn from this?” One student answered, “That no matter how busy you are, you can always fit it one more thing?” “No, the important thing is: you have to put the rocks in first. If you fill your jar first with the pebbles, sand or water, there will be no room for the rocks.”
Put the rocks in first, those important things that keep you grounded and centered.
I’m the one who thought that you could always fit in one more call, one more meeting. Yet when I fill my jar with what seems urgent but not important, there isn’t room for what I really need: time for my inner life – prayer, study, reflection; and time for my family.
A New Year approaches: it is an empty jar. How I fill it up is up to me. Elul is the deep breath I need to get clear about what my rocks are, and to promise myself to put them in first.