We’ve said goodbye to family BBQs, poolside lemonade, and family vacations. Summer has come to an end, replaced by the bustle of work traffic, school busses, and ugh- routine! Another 365 days of both familiarity and the unknown become our reality, and some of us dread it. However, the Jewish New Year and adjacent holidays provide a magical opportunity to change up our routine and provide a FRESH start.
At this time in history, Moses went up to Mount Sinai for the third time to bring down the second set of Tablets for the Jewish people. After a disastrous first attempt culminating with the Jews worshipping the golden calf and Moses smashing the Luchot (tablets), G-d was ready to forgive and forget. He returned on Yom Kippur with new Luchot and a second chance for the Jews to become one with G-d through the ten commandments.
The month of the high holidays is an auspicious time. G-d is “standing in the fields.” The usual position of the king is to sit deep within the walls of his palace, surrounded by servants and protected by a slew of guards. He is hard to reach and less accessible to the average man. This is G-d during the year. However, during the month of Elul- G-d leaves His palace to extend His hand to the people. We have a unique ability to speak with Him directly, asking for anything we desire- namely, a year of life and goodness.
Everyone wants a better, sweeter year than the last. Our table is laden with dates, leeks, pomegranates, gourd, and even a fish head to symbolize sweetness and victory over hateful enemies. We dip crunchy apples into golden honey, (check out this stunning wooden honey dish -https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/kakadu-honey-dish-wood.htm)
We do not know 100% what the year will bring, but we have the power to pray for change and take tiny steps that bring forth exponential growth and new direction. Doing so requires self-contemplation, a personal accounting of our souls. We look back at the year- our mistakes, triumphs, challenges, and victories. We apologize for stumbling and find ways to improve, be it through prayer, charity, and kind deeds.
We invest in change by setting new goals, whether it’s being a calmer parent or reaching out to those who are lonely. We ask those we have hurt for forgiveness, and we beg G-d to grant us a year of health and happiness, material, spiritual and emotional success. The holidays are a time to reset and reconnect with ourselves, G-d, and the people around us.
The intensity of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is mitigated by the festive, joyous time of Sukkot. We remember the ‘clouds of glory that protected the Jewish people throughout their time in the desert by sitting in sukkahs. We move outside our comfortable homes into temporary outdoor huts as a sign that it is G-d who safeguards man and provides all material and spiritual sustenance, not man himself.
Sukkot also marks the beginning of the harvest season. The timing is especially significant this year with the completion of the Shemitta cycle in Israel, a once-every-seven-year event when farmers let their fields lie fallow as an act of faith and commitment to G-d.
We decorate our Sukkah with the shivat haminim, the seven fruits/grains native to the land of Israel. We shake the ‘Arba Minim’- Lulav, Etrog, Hadasim, and Aravot to symbolize the unification of all types of Jews. No matter who they are or where they come from, all Jews come together in order to perform the Mitzvot of Sukkot. (Don’t forget to keep your etrog safe and kosher with our elegant velvet case)
We invite guests and the Ushpizin, seven forefathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aharon, and King David into our ‘homes.’ We bask in G-d’s glory with festive songs, prayers, family, and food. (enhance your table with our embroidered table runners- https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/rimosaic-pomegranate-table-runner.htm)
We head to synagogue with our young ones to dance with our Holy Torah, the token and guide of the Jewish nation. (Excite the children with their very own Torah to bring to shul!
On the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret, G-d asks to spend one final day with Him. It’s hard for Him to let go of these special moments together, and we feel the same.
Suddenly, the holidays hit an abrupt end. Unlike the beginning of the year, G-d is no longer ‘in the field,’ but ‘back in the palace’, more distant and hard to reach. The relationship is always there, but after the high holidays- we must work harder for it.
We return to our mundane, day-to-day lives. Holiday celebrations and festive meals are replaced with carpools and endless work meetings. The spiritual high, along with the warm crisp weather, descends into a cold and bleak winter. The contrast can cause some of us to feel down and spiritually disconnected. It’s harder to get out and see friends. We become more sluggish, perhaps feeling as though there is nothing to look forward to.
However, our goal as Jews is to live with purpose, meaning, and happiness. The glue holding our nation together is the ability to stand together throughout challenging and joyous times. To remain connected to each other and our spirituality. We do not simply ‘let go of G-d’ or our commitments simply because the atmosphere changes.
The point of the high holidays is to catapult man into a year of hope, change, and faith. The holiness and awe of the month carry us through the various cycles (and seasons) of the year, be it pleasant or at times, challenging. We welcome the blessings and prayers of the new year into our hearts and homes. (and walls- with this golden blessing for the home frame art https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/seasons-home-blessing-framed-art.htm)
If we maintain awareness of our goals and establish a concrete plan to do so, there is no need to fall into the trap of ‘spiritual deficiency’ after the high holiday’s end. The whole month of Elul we recite King David’s Psalm “G-d is my light and Salvation” (Hashem Ori Vyishi)
At the end of the prayer, we beseech G-d “Vshavti Bbeit Hashem Kol Yemai Chayai”, we should be able to dwell in the house of G-d all the days of our life. Not just during moments of tangible spirituality. Not solely when life is breezy, or feels unmanageably difficult. Rather, we hope to feel a deep connection every single day of the year. In this prayer, we ask G-d to help us remain focused on what’s important- always.
However, ups and downs are an inevitable part of life. Some months are tremendously busy, perhaps challenges arise, or maybe things appear to be going smoothly and we forget about the promises we’ve made. Our spiritual engines need a boost from time to time.
Here are ten tips to help you remain spiritually focused during the year!
Life is busy, responsibilities never seem to end. Take some time every day, even just a couple of minutes to reflect on the day and week as a whole. It may seem weird at first, spending a moment with yourself. Most individuals avoid being alone with their thoughts.
Humans relentlessly seek ways to fill their inner spiritual and emotional void. When it’s too silent, we create noise. This constant noise is the work of our ‘yetzer hara’ the G-d given spirit within that impedes us from making good choices. Enticing pleasures and endless distractions create barriers between humans and their better, more spiritual selves.
Don’t become so busy or distracted that you have no time to think. Obsessing about your job, finances, an upcoming vacation or home renovations are a surefire way to stunt growth and development. Keep your eye on the prize- that is, a healthy relationship with yourself, others, and G-d.
Take a break from scrolling mindlessly or shopping online. Put your phone away for two minutes (at least!) before bed and ask yourself- what have I done right this week? What could use improvement? Was my behavior aligned with who I wished to be? Journaling a few minutes a night can help you stay present, calm, and focused.
Commit to getting enough sleep and exercise. Daily movement is crucial for releasing stress, boosting energy levels, and clarity of thought. If you’re feeling sluggish and disconnected, take a short walk around the block, practice some yoga, or if you’re up for the challenge- try 20 minutes of vigorous exercise. Research proves that individuals who sleep adequately are more productive, make better decisions, and are happier and more helpful than those who don’t.
Have you tried mindfulness? Maybe you’re a nature lover, and can find a serene spot outdoors- a running stream, flower garden, or peaceful trail nearby. If you’re a homebody, take a chair or yoga mat out to the garden, or practice in your office chair. Close your eyes, do a body scan, and practice some deep breathing to center yourself and focus.
Another tip is to look outwards, and see how you can be of service to others. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our personal needs. Reach out and do one small kindness for someone you know who could use it. Make sure to set aside money for charity, and give a little extra to those in need (make sure you have a pretty box to put it in https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/tzedakah-box-with-flowers-and-green-stones-1.htm!)
Make a phone call to a friend who’s going through a rough patch. Spent an hour with that child who seems to need a little extra love. Surprise a lonely family member or single parent with an ‘i’m thinking of you gift.’ (Have you seen our hilarious Yiddish sayings mug? https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/yiddish-sayings-mug.htm.)
Inside and outside our homes are endless opportunities for spiritual attunement. Begin your morning with Modeh Ani, the prayer said upon awakening. Modeh Ani thanks G-d for waking us up with a new day- and new opportunities for accomplishment. G-d believes in man and his limitless potential, giving him a new shot at life every single day! Imagine that, a mini Rosh Hashana every single morning!
It’s important to follow up with washing our hands, Netilat Yadayim- to cleanse them of any impurities in preparation for prayer and the morning blessings. Some individuals even keep a cup and bowl of water next to their bed! You’ll look forward to doing this with an earthy, beautiful washing cup (https://www.shalomhouse.com/pr...
Remember to say blessings (brachot) at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. After going to the bathroom, say the Asher Yatzar prayer with intent- and thank G-d for a functional body that unfortunately, others don’t always have. (and get your favorite family doc this colorful, groovy physician’s prayer- https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/colorful-physician%27s-prayer.htm.)
When donning Tefillin in the morning, imagine G-d taking you out of Egypt to be a unique part of His nation, to bring His love into the world through your thoughts and good deeds. The numerical value of Tzitzit is 613. Wearing them daily reminds us of our unique connection with G-d and our commitment to the 613 commandments that can elevate the world. (Keep your tefillin safe with our Choshen tefillin bag, embroidered with the unique colors and names of the 12 tribes https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/choshen-tefilin-bag-velvet.htm)
Did you know one of the six constant mitzvot is simply to love G-d? The best way to love and appreciate someone is through gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal next to your bed, or have everyone at the dinner table mention one thing they’re grateful for. Make this a habit!
When you kiss your mezuzah, which contains the Shema prayer, think of something you may be taking for granted, such as your eyesight, breath, or morning coffee. Envision G-d’s love for you and try to send some loving vibes in return. (have you seen our best-selling porcelain mitzvah mezuzah? https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/mitzvah-mezuzah-painted-porcelain.htm)
Before saying the bedtime prayer at night, remember- you are reaffirming your faith in G-d and your unique place within the Jewish people!
Don’t forget the ultimate power tool- prayer! Prayer has been the ultimate medium to connect with G-d, from the time of our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who formulated the three daily prayers. All our fathers and mothers used prayer as a means to beseech G-d in times of need and thank Him in times of goodness.
It’s not only the three obligatory prayers (shaharit, minha, maariv) that are a time for prayer and connection. One can reach out to G-d any time of the day or night, simply to talk or pray in his language. G-d is always listening, as our father and our king- Avinu Malkeinu. A father is always there to listen, help and support his child. When feeling depleted, empty, confused, scared, happy- whatever the emotion, we can share it with our loving father above.
Let’s not forget about Shabbat. Ah, Shabbat. On the seventh day, when G-d took a break from the creation of the world. He permits us to rest. Silence. We pray, study, and reflect. We eat mouth-watering food and spend much-needed time with our families. Sabbath is sacred and holy. Sabbath is ‘Mein Olam Haba’- an earthly microcosm of the heavenly world to come. We usher in the Sabbath queen with the sparkling light of candlesticks. (https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/modern-hammered-candlesticks.htm)
We sanctify the day with the Kiddush prayer and blessings for our children. (delight them with their very own kiddush cup here! https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/modern-hammered-candlesticks.htm)
We sit in the synagogue and read about the Parshat Hashavua, learning valuable insights from our forefathers since the beginning of time.
Don’t forget to invite guests once in a while, perhaps someone who is new to Judaism. Showing others the beauty of our heritage is not only a huge mitzvah but a wonderful way to reignite the flame of spirituality within.
Sabbath is set aside to strengthen our relationships with family and G-d. Don’t miss this weekly opportunity to reset your spiritual compass and recharge for busy the week ahead.
Perhaps there is a weekly study group in your neighborhood or on zoom. Check out your community listings, neighborhood email group, or synagogue for information about classes (shiurim) given throughout the week. Grab a friend or use it as an opportunity to meet new people and learn something new. W
Whether it’s Talmud, Jewish history, Rabbinical literature, or Kaballah- there are endless resources out there (including the internet!) to enhance your spiritual repertoire. Develop a relationship with a teacher, mentor, or friend with whom you can ask questions and receive guidance when in need.
There are many tips listed here. Don’t be overwhelmed. It would be virtually impossible, unrealistic, and unwise to aim for perfection. The greatest of our sages unanimously agree that the only way to succeed is by aiming for the tiniest little change. Focus on one small area, something that is not too hard or unrealistic- and make that your primary growth aspiration.
Maybe it’s ten minutes a day of no gossip, remembering to say one blessing a day, or writing a single love note to your spouse every week. Whatever you choose, committing to one small change s the tried and true way to succeed and feel empowered. One success creates a ripple effect that positively shifts other behaviors in your life.
We are human, and bound to fluctuate when it comes to our moods, relationships, and development. Spiritual pursuit should be a goal, not an obsession. Don’t feel guilty about having a bad week, month, or not meeting your expectations.
Speak kindly to yourself, and the next time you’re feeling upbeat or inspired, re-commit to your values and goals. Take it one day at a time, and worst-case scenario- Chanukah’s coming soon to light up the dark winter ahead :) (wow someone in advance with our whimsical combo menorah-https://www.shalomhouse.com/products/whimsical-combo-menorah.htm)