This is it — it is Elul. It is the time of year when we are given the gift of an entire month to reflect on our lives in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. It’s like a good warm-up before a workout — when we have prepared ourselves during the month of Elul, we are ready to use our teshuvah (repentance/spiritual turning) muscles well on the New Year.

My kids have often reminded me of the need for good stretching before and after exercise. I’m not good at this — I am impatient to get to the bike or the treadmill and get my heart rate up. To be honest I have to admit that I am lazy about stretching before my workout. And I pay the price: my muscles complain and sometimes ache, and it’s all my own fault.

My kids and I recently took a four-day hiking trip on a beautiful mountain trail. It was steep and rugged. They are a lot younger than I am and amazingly agile. I thought I was in good shape — until I began this hike. But I was intent upon keeping up with them and not holding our journey back. In pushing forward, we all forgot about the necessity of stretching — that is, until I was limping from injury.

Now nursing my sore tendon, I am reminded once again of the value of warming up — getting ready, being prepared.

So here we are — we can enter the New Year unprepared and risk that the journey of teshuvah, repentance and renewal, might not work. It could even leave us bruised and alienated.  All those words…all those prayers — they are for us, that we might emerge into the New Year feeling a sense of possibility, hope and optimism — a renewal of spirit.

The month of Elul is a gift. On this, its first day, let’s unwrap its potential to help us heal our wounds, repair ourselves and be closer in the New Year to our very best selves.

An Elul journey can include prayers, meditations, journal-writing, etc.  Our spiritual practice belongs to us — the challenge today is to decide what it will be, and to try our best.

I wish you a Hodesh Tov, happy New Month. This auspicious month of Elul is the beginning of our journey.