How Do I Return?

I’ve never met an Elul that I did not regret.

Elul is the month that leads up to the High Holidays, and it serves as a chance to re-connect before greeting G-d in the synagogue.

As I cook, and dress, and prep for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashonah, my heart always feels heavy with guilt. Yet again, I let an entire month meant for returning slip by.

I’ve learned my entire life that the entire month is an auspicious time, that G-d is closer than He ever is, that if there was any a time to connect, it was now.
Yet, even when I would go to school every day, the wires just didn’t connect. I didn’t get it. It was hard to visualize G-d being closer when there was no tangible proof of it.
This Elul, I wanted to do it differently. I wanted to be able to feel accomplished when I got to Rosh Hashonah. This year, I’ll really repent. This year, I’ll take advantage of G-ds closeness.
But it’s hard.
It’s really hard.
I’ve been keeping an Elul diary, and I’m not seeing the point.
How can I repent for sins that I keep repeatedly doing?
Elul is not for the weak of heart, and my heart is far from strong.
I’ve been taught, and taught repeatedly, that Elul is not about taking out your book of wrongdoings and crying over them, begging for forgiveness. It’s about returning to who your soul is. Ridding yourselves of the outward anger, confusion, desires, and coming back home.
But, I’m so very human, and G-d does not make this come easy in any way.
My soul is still very much sending mixed signals. I’m not always sure what my soul actually wants and what makes it happy. I have a hard time following things by the book, and if that’s what my soul is searching for, than I’m not sure how we ended up together.
I keep trying to work on small goals, but even those are so out of reach. I beg G-d for guidance, I beg Him for assistance, and all I get in return is my own two hands and my beating heart.
I have to do this on my own, otherwise it won’t be true.
I thought my Elul would be full of meaningful soul-searching, developing a new deep love for all things Judaism, a month that would glide me towards an even more beautiful month of holidays.
But I was shocked back to real life by the real dirty hard work of it. The painful discoveries. The struggle of facing yourself.
My goal in this moment is to not regret Elul. To not have an important and deeply valuable gift slip through my fingers once more. It may hurt, it may feel like I’m not doing much at all at some points. Perhaps I won’t be. Maybe some days I’ll make great strides, moving fast in my ideal direction. But it’s not about how much I get done this month. It’s not about being the perfect Jew, or coming out with no flaws, or empty of tears.
What I’m learning this Elul is that it’s about the struggle and the work, and thinking about what makes Elul important. It’s about recognizing that G-d is close, even if I don’t feel it. It’s about not wanting to regret Elul, and doing something about it. Even if that something is tiny, and small, and only takes up moments of my day.
My Elul is certainly not on the levels of others. I’m sure that others feel a tangible feeling in the air, I’m sure that others devote extra time to pray and take on big new commitments.
For now, my Elul is starting with waking up and being aware of where I stand, and whom I stand in front of. It’s about not letting the days pass by without thought.
It’s not about the enormous gestures that I can make if those gestures won’t last.
It’s about the little things, even if that’s just taking a moment in each day to remember that G-d is close, and that He is listening.

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