From the Desk of Cheryl Hauer
Everybody loves a holiday, right? A time to kick back and relax, do a little celebrating, maybe grill a burger or two. Even God seems to feel that way. In Leviticus 23, we find a whole list of special days that He says are His festivals to be celebrated by His people throughout all of time. But He calls each one a “moed," which means they have more significance than just a day off from work. Each one is an appointed time, a specific appointment with God Himself, a day for which His people have a very special invitation to separate themselves from the cares of the world and meet with Him. This year, beginning the evening of August 26th, the Jewish people will be engaged in such a time with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This moed, however, will last for 29 very special days. It is a preparation time for the fall holidays and is called the month of Elul.
An Invitation to Repentance
A rabbi once told his students, “Repent the day before you die.” They responded with confusion, saying, “But Rabbi, we don’t know when we will die!” The rabbi replied, “Then you must repent every day.” What good advice! As people of faith, nothing should be more important than time set aside to humble ourselves and seek the face of God. The month of Elul, twelfth on the Jewish calendar, plus the first ten days of Tishrei are dedicated to that very thing. The ten days of Tishrei start with Rosh HaShana (the Feast of Trumpets), continue through the ten Days of Awe, and culminate with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Jewish people around the world spend these forty days praying, repenting, and fasting for themselves and on behalf of their families, communities, and even their nations. Following the example of the ancient prophets, they seek the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord with true humility, desiring to face the transgressions of the past year in order to ensure that they are not repeated.
Elul is a month of soul searching or, as some Jewish sages have called it, the month of accounting. Any good businessman knows that in order to keep his business profitable and strong, he must keep detailed ledgers and regularly create a profit-and-loss statement. So, they say, we need to do an annual audit of our “spiritual business.” The month of Elul provides the opportunity to examine all we have done throughout the year and make sure our “accounts are in order.”
King David was a firm believer in “accounting.” Often asking God to reveal even his hidden sins, David was quick to repent and cry out for forgiveness. With great passion and pain, he confessed that he knew his sins were committed against the Lord Himself, which caused David great anguish. Once he had acknowledged his iniquity and repented, he asked the Lord for a right spirit and a clean heart. He had done his accounting and sincerely repented; he was now a cleansed receptacle into which God could pour His holiness.
A Date with the God of Love
The story is told of a young couple who were passionately in love, beginning their married life together with great joy and expectation. But as time passed, the joy waned and the passion faded. Children came along and the cares of work, parenting, and keeping ahead of a constant list of things to do took over. They grew apart and their conversations became tinged with resentment. Even on those occasions when they ate together, each sat with a cell phone, busy with work and play rather than focusing on each other.
One evening, the wife arrived home to find her husband’s cell phone on the counter beside a brief note that read, “Meet me on the patio.” Leaving her phone beside his, she tentatively stepped through the open patio door to find her husband on the other side, a bouquet of roses in his hand and a table set with candles and her favorite foods, a look of hesitance on his face. Would she cross the patio and accept his heartfelt offer to rekindle their failing love? Or would she turn her back?
It is taught that we enter the month of Elul “back to back,” having slowly let the cares of the world turn us away from the love of God. But during Elul, we have a special invitation to step through that patio door where our beloved awaits. If we make the right choices, we end the month of Elul panim el panim, face to face with the One who desires to be the love of our lives.
As Christians, we know that we can enter the throne room of God at any time, repenting and seeking forgiveness. But responding to His invitation to dedicate 40 days to special fellowship with Him can be life changing.
Issachar Community partners with Bridges for Peace, a Christian organization that is headquartered in Jerusalem and dedicated to building relationships between Christians and Jews in Israel and around the world. Bridges for Peace have prepared a 40-day devotional that includes not just the month of Elul but the entire fall holiday cycle. It is called “Repent the Day Before You Die,” and is a guide for Christians who are willing to take the challenge and join millions of others on this remarkable, annual journey. If you are interested, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find it at bridgesforpeace.com
Your beloved awaits, and I assure you, you will never be the same!
*This article contains excerpts from Repent the Day Before You Die, by Rev. Rebecca J. Brimmer and Rev. Cheryl L. Hauer