By Hazzan Tisser
Our lives run on cycles–cycles of all sorts. Some sacred, and some mundane. There are the cyclical ups and downs of life…there are periods of peak and of lesser intensity at work…there are cycles in the development of our children…there are the cycles of nature which we acknowledge at every Ma’ariv service…there are the monthly cycles of the sun and moon, which we celebrate each Rosh Hodesh…there are the cycles of our daily routines…and there are others as well.
I completed a cycle this past Monday evening. In fact, several cycles collided in one evening. Monday afternoon was the last time I recited Kaddish for my grandmother after eleven months of daily recitation. What made the moment especially meaningful is that when I recited the last Kaddish, I was in the home of a bereft family who lost a similarly strong woman—a true matriarch, just like my grandmother—helping them enter shiva just hours after the funeral. My last Kaddish was their first since leaving the cemetery earlier that day. We shared that experience, standing together in sacred time and space. We shared laughter and tears; we shared poems and prayers. We held on to each other for strength, for encouragement, and for the knowledge that we would all be ok.
The beginning of their sh’loshim (the thirty-day period of mourning) will end on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, as the community disperses from shul to a yontev lunch at home. This will not be easy for them. But they have a period of thirty days to prepare themselves for the reality that there will be an empty seat at the Holy Day table this year (a reality which my family will also adjusting to).
Personally, the end of Kaddish for my grandmother begins a period of sh’loshim for me as well – thirty days of reflection and of remembering, which culminates as well on the second day of Rosh Hashanah with the yahrzeit of my grandfather, whom I loved very much. This period will be one, for me, of deep introspection—of recalling lessons learned and memories shared, and of thinking about how I can use these to better myself.
We often speak of the ten days starting on Rosh Hashanah and ending on Yom Kippur as the key period for reflection and calls to action. I would like to propose, however, that just a few days ago we all began a period of sh’loshim—the thirty days leading from Rosh Hodesh Elul to Rosh Hashanah. It is during this time that the shofar calls to us each morning to pause and reflect. It is during this period that we recite Psalm 27 twice daily, reminding us that we have the potential to grow and to improve, and that God is with us as we do so because God wants us to succeed. And it is the time during which, starting in just two weeks, we will recite daily the selichot—the penitential prayers—which both force us to reflect deeply on our deeds, and which recount daily the Thirteen Attributes of God, which we, as creatures made in the Divine image, must emulate (more on that during Selichot).
My prayer for us all this Elul is that we take opportunities to pause and to reflect, to remember and to look ahead. I pray that we may all complete this period of sh’loshim a little more whole, and a whole lot better; and that we will reflect together in just a few more weeks when we gather for the High Holy Day services. May we all be blessed with good health and length of days, and may we be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year—another cycle.